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Union fights HandyDart service shift to taxis

One of the speakers in support of HandyDart workers at TransLink annual general meeting Wednesday. - Jeff Nagel / Black Press
One of the speakers in support of HandyDart workers at TransLink annual general meeting Wednesday.
— image credit: Jeff Nagel / Black Press

Up to 28 HandyDart drivers are facing potential layoffs as TransLink opts to make more use of taxis instead to carry elderly and disabled passengers.

Unionized HandyDart workers packed into TransLink's annual general meeting Wednesday to denounce the move to cut 10,000 service hours in favour of taxi subsidies.

"Taxi service is not a solution," said HandyDart employee Mark Beeching, who contends taxi service is more costly and is unsafe for passengers because cabbies don't have adequate training.

"This is what happens when you have a contracted-out service and profit is the motive for most decisions,"  Amalgamated Transit Union local 1724 union president Bob Chitrenky said of the pending layoffs by operator MVT Canadian Bus.

TransLink predicts taxis will save money and allow more trips with the same outlay of money because some long-distance routes currently dead-head back empty.

"We can provide more trips for more people with the resources that we've got," CEO Ian Jarvis said, adding two audits last year directed TransLink to pursue HandyDart service reforms.

"You're dancing around the problem," Chitrenky said. "You're not telling us how this is going to be solved."

He said 37,000 people were denied HandyDart rides last year.

Jarvis said TransLink needs more long-term funding to meet expected growth in HandyDart demand as well as provide other transit service expansion.

Described as a pilot program, the first phase of the shift to taxis targets four routes: Surrey to New Westminster, Surrey to Vancouver, White Rock to Vancouver and Delta to Vancouver.

The move is just one plank of TransLink's reforms for greater efficiency.

Other measures, such as optimizing bus routes to better meet rider demand, has helped TransLink increase transit revenue by 3.5 per cent by serving more passengers with the same amount of bus service.

Chief financial officer Cathy McLay also said TransLink took advantage of low interest rates last year to borrow $250 million through 40-year bonds, providing low-cost financing for the Evergreen Line and SkyTrain station upgrades.

VIDEO: Bob Chitrenky

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