HandyDART delivered more trips in 2019 with higher customer ratings, according to a new performance report released this morning.
The report is the first stand-alone look at what HandyDART offers passengers with disabilities who can’t use conventional transit and it gives a generally, positive assessment in contrast to some blistering criticism from one riders’ group.
Respondents to an October 2019 Ipsos telephone survey done of users of HandyDART vehicles, or the “supplemental taxis” that are dispatched when the vehicles aren’t available, rated the ease of booking a trip as 8.5 out of 10.
The report indicated that 87 per cent of vehicle trips pick customers up within the promised on-time window of 15 minutes before or after the scheduled time. In terms of rating overall customer satisfaction, users gave an average score of 8.6 out of 10.
The report also identified challenges, noting that of the over 350,000 cancellations, 88 per cent were initiated by customers for legitimate reasons such as feeling unwell as opposed to cancellations due to vehicle breakdowns, congestion, or poor weather.
Late cancellations that are within two hours of a booked trip impact scheduling, waste travel time, and affect other customers’ experience since they “may take up space that could have been used by someone else,” said the report.
The number of trips that are requested, but not booked was more alarming between five and 10 years ago.
“HandyDART continues to be a service that customers can trust to receive a safe and well-assisted journey. While ridership is currently low compared to pre-pandemic levels, we’d expect HandyDART demand to continue to grow as the region’s population ages over coming years,” said TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy.
Beth McKellar was less sanguine. She’s chair of the HandyDART Riders’ Alliance, a group of “riders and allies working for better HandyDART and accessible transit service” that TransLink says it met with ahead of beginning the review.
She is skeptical of the information collected and the rosy assessment it yields because “2019 was a horrendous year of trying to get them to even just hear us, never mind listening to us.”
McKellar and others have long been advocating for TransLink to operate its HandyDART vehicles in-house instead of contracting out the service Her frustration with the current arrangement took on a new level with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were rolling COVID petri-dishes in the beginning. It wasn’t until I had a damned, old-fashioned hissy-fit. We weren’t getting the vehicles cleaned except for a sweep-out every 14 days,” said McKellar. “They had excuses up the yingyang. I’ve been riding these buggies for 21 years. And they were delivering people to these (long-term care) homes and picking up from these homes.”