Advocates are calling for a second handyDART bus along with taxi services that meet the needs of seniors and people with disabilities in Terrace and area..
Terrace resident Yvonne Nielsen was in a serious car crash more than 35 years ago and has lived with a disability since then. As a regular user of the handyDART bus, she told city council recently it’s just not enough to meet a growing need.
HandyDART, operated by BC Transit, is an accessible, door-to-door shared bussing service for people with disabilities preventing them from using fixed-route transit without assistance from another person. It picks you up at your door and drops you off.
With “very high demand for the use of the handyDART bus” Nielsen said some people can’t use the bus when needed because it is booked up or already busy. People sometimes get dropped off but are then left stranded with no way home, she said.
While excellent when available, Nielsen argued the service is overstretched in part because it’s shared between the City of Terrace and Thornhill. The bus only runs from 8:45 am to 4:10 pm on weekdays and from 9 am to 4:10 pm on Saturdays, with costs shared between Terrace, the Kitimat-Stikine regional district and BC Transit.
With Nielsen was Amanda Waning who works with seniors and people with disabilities. She pleaded with council that her clients deserve the same quality of life as their peers.
“Wheelchair users are plentiful in Terrace and these individuals face the most significant physical barriers to day to day life, especially when leaving the home,” said Waning.
Waning compared Terrace with communities of similar size, like Cranbrook and Kitimat.
Cranbrook offers handyDART service from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday, with three such busses to handle the service level. Kitimat offers the service from 7 am to 10 pm daily, including statutory holidays.
“This is the gold standard that we should be striving for,” Waning said of Kitimat, adding that services vary dramatically depending on which community you live in.
Those communities have much bigger budgets Terrace, though, which mayor and council later pointed out.
Making matter worse, said Waning, is that the city’s only taxi company has just one wheelchair accessible van with “a long history of being in and out of service.”
Waning was told cabbies don’t want to use the van since it reduces their number of fares and they lack training to meet the needs of users. And while the company isn’t required to have an accessible vehicle, the taxi van does factor into the provincial transportation board’s assessment of community need, she said.
“Their last review of Terrace is essentially saying the current handyDART schedule and availability times, coupled with this wheelchair taxi, that’s extremely unreliable, is meeting the needs of our users, when in fact we know this not to be the case.”
The advocates said there needs to be at least one additional handyDART bus that runs daily and into the evenings. And local taxi companies should be obliged to have at least one wheelchair accessible van at all times. They proposed that be achieved through a review by the transportation board or by a business licence review of the taxi company.
Coun. Brian Downie said he understands that BC Transit doesn’t record unmet trips. Mayor Sean Bujtas asked if Nielsen could remember booking the handyDART and being turned down.
While not giving an estimate of unmet trips, Nielsen noted medical and leisure appointments can fall outside the handyDART service hours. While convenient, the bus also deosn’t cover places like the airport.
Waning told stories from residents she surveyed before going to council. One involved having to make seven calls between a specialist’s office and handyDART to get an appointment set up.
Council resolved to task city staff with looking into the handyDART service, taxi regulations and responsibilities.
Coun. Dave Gordon pointed to a difference between what regulators and residents are telling the city.
“It seems like staff have been to this place before and [staff have] been told everything’s fine. And clearly people in the community are telling us it’s not.”
Waning pointed to the Canadian Transit Association’s list of economic benefits to accessible transport — a decrease in healthcare costs, increase in income and overall social benefits for mobility restricted people.
“Ultimately we believe relying on a mobility device should not be a limiting factor to shopping at a local business, seeing a free concert in the park, visiting family for dinner and being a part of this community, she said.”
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