HandyDART Riders to hold forum on transit referendum in Surrey

CLOVERDALE — Public transit users will use a forum in Cloverdale Saturday to urge TransLink to make a 30 per cent increase to HandyDART service over the next 10 years.

HandyDART is a door-to-door transit service for people with disabilities and older seniors that has been part of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system since 1981. However, service hours and trips were frozen at 2008 levels after the provincial government appointed a board of directors to oversee TransLink.

Beth McKellar, a member of the HandyDART Riders’ Alliance, said the freeze has harmed transit service levels in the Lower Mainland.

"I think what gets me is the fact that there’s so many more people aging — because that’s something you cannot stop," said McKellar, who has a spinal cord injury.

The population of people over the age of 70 in Metro Vancouver is expected to grow by 40 per cent over the next decade, or about 10,000 per year.

McKellar said riders with disabilities often have to book trips a week in advance and work around the call centre schedule of HandyDART dispatchers. She encouraged politicians and members of TransLink to book a trip on HandyDART and see the onerous process for themselves.

"Being denied a HandyDART service can be compared to being sentenced to house arrest without committing any crime."

According to the Riders’ Alliance, freedom of information requests show that the result of this service freeze is that people with disabilities and seniors were denied HandyDART service over 42,000 times in 2013, an eight-fold increase in four years. There were 5,075 HandyDART denials in 2009 and 42,418 in 2013.

McKellar said many people don’t think about the importance of service for the aged and infirm because they don’t anticipate an injury might happen to themselves.

"You know the old saying, ‘oh everything’s fine until it happens to me.’ Then it’s, ‘what’s available to me?’"

By failing to increase service levels, McKellar says it imposes greater cost on the public health system, family caregivers, and infringes on the rights of people living with disabilities.

During the last election campaign, B.C. Premier Christy Clark pledged that a referendum would have to be held before approving funding increases to transit service in Metro Vancouver. The referendum by mail-in ballot is now tentatively scheduled to be sent out in mid-March 2015 with about a six-week window to return ballots.

The funding sources to be approved by the referendum will likely be announced in late 2014 or early 2015.

The HandyDART public forum will be held Oct. 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cloverdale Library (5642 176A St.) in Surrey. Speakers will include the GetOnBoard BC transit coalition, the Metro Vancouver Alliance, and municipal and provincial politicians including TransLink critic George Heyman and Surrey mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode.

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