TransLink has abandoned its plan to phase out subsidized cab rides for elderly and disabled HandyDart clients, saying it failed to fully grasp the need for the TaxiSaver program.
Eliminating the $50 per month subsidy for half-price taxi fares would have saved $1.1 million that TransLink intended to reinvest into the oversubscribed HandyDart custom-transit service to provide more rides that way.
But the transportation authority was besieged with protests from angry users, who complained they could at least use TaxiSavers to get a taxi on short notice when HandyDart is unavailable or booked up.
In other cases they could get to an appointment with HandyDart but there was no guarantee of a return ride.
TransLink board chair Nancy Olewiler said the authority has learned from its error.
“The TaxiSaver program is reinstated in its entirety,” she said Wednesday.
“I regret any angst we caused for people who were fearful their program would not continue and they would not have the access they did.”
Olewiler said the goal of the change was always to improve service.
“It wasn’t a cost saving,” she said. “We actually thought, believe it or not, we were going to make the system better.”
TransLink had consulted through its Access Transit Users Advisory Committee, but Olewiler said they later realized how some clients use TaxiSavers in combination with HandyDart and how the taxi coupons provide much more convenience and flexibility.
“We didn’t understand the integral nature of TaxiSavers to the whole program,” Olewiler said. “We just didn’t have that depth of understanding.”
The planned cancellation of TaxiSavers – sales were to stop this summer and remaining ones were to expire next June – was put on hold pending pending more consultation by TransLink in May.
More than 18,000 HandyDart trip requests were denied last year because the service was oversubscribed and that problem has worsened this year.
TransLink also wanted to crack down on unauthorized use of TaxiSavers because the coupons are often sold on the black market to people who don’t qualify for the program.
“As with the U-Pass, we’ve seen people selling TaxiSavers on Craigslist,” Olewiler said. “There is fraud.”
TransLink is exploring ways to bolster identification requirements as part of the rollout of TransLink’s Compass smart card.
The decision comes as TransLink is in the midst of a search for savings on multiple fronts to free up money to satisfy its independent commissioner as well as a provincial audit.
CEO Ian Jarvis said that process is “consuming” the organization this summer.
He pledged a financial plan set for release in September will shed more light on what cost-cutting measures may be pursued.
“There are risks that come with these opportunities,” Jarvis said, adding TransLink needs to assess the potential impact on reliability and quality of transit services.
TransLink must carve about $50 million a year out of its budget to offset a denied fare increase and to make up for area mayors’ vote to rescind a property tax increase.
Promised express bus routes from Langley to Burnaby over the new Port Mann Bridge and down King George Boulevard in Surrey are on hold as a result.
Mayors Council vice-chair Peter Fassbender said he hopes TransLink consults carefully as it decides where to cut.
“They’re looking at the rationalization of various service levels, unproductive routes, issues on maintenance and a whole host of complex and far-reaching things,” he said.
Fassbender said those decisions need to consider communities’ needs, not just “business cases and numbers.”
By the numbers
HandyCard users who qualify for TaxiSavers: 32,000
TaxiSaver purchasers in last year: 7,200
Portion of conventional bus fleet that’s accessible: 100 %
- Share of bus stops that are accessible: 63.4 %