11/23/2013 20:28 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 05:59 EST

HandyDART riders call for change at public forum

Nearly 100 people attended a public forum in Coquitlam on Saturday intended to pressure TransLink and the B.C. government to increase funding for HandyDART services.

The meeting comes just days after a group called the HandyDART Riders Committee released a report that claims documents obtained through a freedom of information request prove that HandyDART service denials have increased 670 per cent since 2008.

The report also claims that over 10,000 hours of service have been cut, with no plans to increase service hours before 2023, and that TransLink’s efforts to increase efficiency by using taxis is failing people who rely upon the service.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the HandyDART. It’s a shame what they’re trying to do the service,” says Gary Brown, a HandyDART rider.

Gwen Lee’s son Jeffrey relies upon HandyDART daily, but recently he has been switched over to a taxi service. Lee says the taxi drivers often lack the necessary skills to ensure a safe trip for her son.

“One time he was dropped off across the street. The cab driver took off and there was Jeffrey ready to run across the road and there was an oncoming car,” she told CBC News.

“If I hadn’t been on the steps watching out for him – I couldn’t warn him so I had to yell out at him to stop.”

Lee’s sentiments were echoed by Mohammad Daliri, a HandyDART driver.

“HandyDART is important because for us, it’s not just a job. It’s emotional. We know the families, they’re our friends,” he says.

According to the Amalgamated Transit Union, experienced drivers are being laid off faster than they can be replaced and the entire system needs improvement.

“Finances is a difficult problem, but I believe they should be moving us in house to save any profit motive. These are efficiencies within the system that can be done,” says Bob Chitrenky with the union.

In a statement to CBC News today, TransLink says it recognizes the growing demand for its services, but its present financial situation does not allow for an expansion of services.

TransLink also says that allocating service hours to taxi companies will help provide 7,000 trips for HandyDART riders that would have otherwise been denied.