TransLink will conduct an extensive review of how it runs the HandyDart system to decide whether the paratransit service should remain contracted out or brought back in house, as well as other potential changes.
The commitment from new CEO Kevin Desmond came after he met with disability advocates and agreed on the new process to address their long-standing complaints about the service operated by U.S. contractor MVT.
“We’re going to go through a review to find what the best way and what the best model is going to be,” Desmond said, adding review will happen in late 2016.
Also to be reviewed are service standards and policies, how they should be set and whether they should change.
“It doesn’t matter who is providing the service, it is our job and our responsibility to ensure our customers get quality of service,” Desmond said.
He said the review will also consider how much subsidized use of taxis should happen as an alternative to HandyDart.
TransLink had stepped up its use of taxis in recent years to accommodate more trip requests, reaching 8.3 per cent of HandyDart trips delivered by taxi last year.
HandyDart users have repeatedly complained about service from both the contracted HandyDart door-to-door shuttle service and taxis, as well as trip denials when the service isn’t available.
Desmond said some taxi use is common and a “best practice” in other jurisdictions, but said TransLink needs to get the balance right.
HandyDart Riders Alliance co-chair Tim Louis said he’s pleased Desmond has agreed to have an outside expert compare whether public or private sector delivery of the service is best.
He said the users believe the current contracted service means millions of dollars disappear from the region each year in profit to the private operator.
“If that profit were used instead here in the region to raise service levels, HandyDart service levels could be raised,” Louis said. “What we would like to see is a win-win situation where taxpayers get better bang for their bucks and users get a higher level of service at no cost to the taxpayer.”
A stakeholder advisory committee is also promised to oversee the review and Louis said that should help ensure everyone can come together behind whatever final service delivery model is decided.
He credited Desmond for helping find common ground and said the new CEO has made “very speedy progress” both on the HandyDart service concerns and in identifying a solution for disabled access through faregates.
TransLink’s contract with MVT to run HandyDart expires at the end of 2016, but it’s expected to be temporarily extended pending the results of the review.