11/20/2013 12:53 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

HandyDART trip denials up 670 per cent since 2008, says group

Some transit users that depend on TransLink’s HandyDART buses allege the service is failing them, and that they have the numbers to prove it.

The HandyDART Riders Committee has released an internal memo from the Coast Mountain Bus Company — obtained through a freedom of information request — that apparently shows that the number of HandyDART trip denials has increased 670 per cent since 2008.

The group says the cuts in services are hurting vulnerable people that depend on HandyDART to get around Metro Vancouver.

“There are requests from medical practitioners where we have to visit another doctor the following, and [HandyDART] would make room for that. That is impossible now, you have to plan. You have to plan at least seven days in advance,” says Bet Tuason, a member of the committee.

According to the document released by the group, there were 4,876 trip denials for riders in 2008. In 2012, that number reached 37, 690.

Eric Doherty, an independent transportation planner who authored a new report called “Metro Vancouver’s Aging Population and the Need for Improved HandyDART Service,” says funding has not kept pace with demographics.

“Over the last five years the population of people over 70 in Metro Vancouver has increased by two and a half times that of the general population and funding for HandyDART service has not kept pace,” Doherty says in a release issued by the committee.

Doherty’s report alleges that TransLink has reduced the number of service hours budgeted for HandyDART riders by 15,000 hours since 2011.

In a statement to CBC News, director of transit services at TransLink Martin Lay says that up until 2009, data on trip denials was not recorded as accurately as today, and that Translink is  “providing more rides to customers with approximately the same number of annual service hours.”

In 2012, only 3% of all trips were denied, according to Lay.

The statement also points to a HandyDART Taxi Pilot that began this year and allocated 10,000 service hours to taxi companies, and that the pilot will provide about 7,000 trips for HandyDART users that would have otherwise been denied.

“Our current sources of revenue do not allow TransLink to expand transit service. Therefore, TransLink is working to find ways to effectively serve our customer’s needs while operating efficiently and within our means,” says Lay.

Former Vancouver city councillor Tim Louis, however, says the taxi service does not adequately compensate for reduced HandyDART access for disabled riders, citing an incident four years ago in which his leg was broken after a taxi driver failed to properly secure his wheelchair.

The newly formed committee says they want to see increased funding for HandyDART services, and that they will continue to petition the regional transit authority until changes are made.