HandyDart service levels will increase by 15 per cent over the next three years.

HandyDart service cranks up as transit expansion continues

Extra service hours added, TransLink envisions 15 per cent boost over three years

TransLink is adding 85,500 more HandyDart trips this year as part of the initial stage of its transit service expansion.

The door-to-door custom transit service carries passengers with disabilities to medical appointments work and social trips. Currently, there are 1.2 million trips annually.

The increase should mean greater availability when booking trips.

“Hospitals are the number one destination for HandyDart trips, followed by day programs, colleges and universities, stroke recovery clubs, Semiahmoo House. This is about mobility, about getting around, about freedom,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond.

The extra trips will cost TransLink an additional $2,379,982 in 2017 boosting the total budget to $51,778,449.

HandyDart advocate Tim Louis praised TransLink’s focus on HandyDart.

“HandyDart service level improvements [are] for the first time ever, higher and faster than that in conventional public transit. That’s never happened before,” said Louis.

The 10-year vision approved by the mayors’ council calls for further boosts in HandyDart service adding a total of 171,000 more trips over the next three years – equivalent to a 15 per cent increase in service availability. However, Desmond said that taxi usage, which made up about 10 per cent of HandyDart trips in 2016, would not necessarily go down.

“It needs to be part of the service,” said Desmond. “Many of our customers actually prefer cabs because they’re a little bit easier and more flexible.”

Flexibility is a key part of keeping HandyDart as useful service, according to Ron Bergen. Bergen sits on the City of Surrey’s Measuring Up committee which strives to increase accessibility for seniors and people with disabilities.

“The concern I do hear is flexibility of the busses and getting the service when they need it, which has been a challenge in the past,” said Bergen. “A lot of people have felt like they have been riding too long on a HandyDart.”

Some of the increase in HandyDart service, Louis said, came about even before phase one of the 10-year vision began.

“Even before the three year phase one plan began, Kevin came across a hidden and forgotten drawer somewhere in TransLink. He opened it up and use the money in it to begin to implement the three year funding increase a year early.”

The HandyDart service boost comes on the heels of jumps in SeaBus service and off-peak SkyTrain service that began in January, as well as an announced bus service expansion expected to gather momentum in the months ahead.

The transit expansion came as a result of more generous cost-sharing of capital transit projects by the federal government, coupled with the Metro Vancouver mayors’ decision to approve small increases in TransLink property taxes and fares to deliver immediate service improvements. According to Translink Minister Peter Fassbender, the Transportation Ministry announced $12.7 million to increase and increase HandyDart service throughout the province.

Metro mayors are now watching to ensure the federal and provincial governments now also commit to the second phase of the plan, not just the first phase.

“The Province of B.C. supports the vision [and] our federal partners are committed. We don’t know what the next phase for phase two funding is going to be but when they make that announcement that’s going to bring clarity to the province and to the region,” said Fassbender.

That would ensure major new rapid transit lines – light rail in Surrey and Langley as well as a Broadway subway in Vancouver – get past the design stage and are actually built.

“We still have a ways to go to deliver the transportation solutions our community members need,” Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said citing a Seniors’ Advocate report released in December that showed a 3.9 per cent growth in the number of seniors over 65-years-old living in B.C.

“This region is continuing to grow and we need expanded services.”

 

@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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