I did a ride-along on Wednesday, February 24 to see how our HandyDART service has been helping out for the Games period!
If you don’t know, HandyDART is our door-to-door, shared-ride service for passengers with physical or cognitive disabilities, using specially-equipped vehicles to meet their needs. Passengers register with the service, then can book their trips with HandyDART, who coordinates drivers to pick them up and drop them off as needed, sort of like a taxi service. (The service is delivered by a local contractor, MVT Canadian Bus, through an operating contract with TransLink.)
For the Games, HandyDART registered 70 visitors who required their assistance. But overall, a little over 1,000 bookings were made for Olympic venues in February, which includes both these visitors and locals. (Before the Games, visitors with mobility issues were informed about the service, and they could register for trips through a special Olympic Visitor’s HandyDART application.)
The loads are similar to what HandyDART would normally carry during non-Olympic periods, but the trips have required extra work, as they require more-than-normal coordination with VANOC and the HandyDART drivers, as they are affected by the impromptu happenings in the downtown core.
So let’s take a look at what a HandyDART trip to a venue is like, and learn a bit more about our visitors and the service itself.
I met HandyDART driver Dave at Metrotown, and we drove into Vancouver to begin the Olympic trip scheduled for the morning. Two visitors had booked a trip from a Vancouver hotel to Canada Hockey Place.
As a side note, I should mention that Dave said he drove Olympic gold-medallist snowboarder Ross Rebagliati and Ross’s mother to the opening ceremonies on HandyDART — wow!
I must also really say that Dave was an absolutely lovely person to go for a ride with. We talked about his HandyDART experience and it was clear how much he cared for the customers and his work.
“Within the HandyDART system, there is a real sense of community that develops,” he told me. “We’re driving some of the most vulnerable of our society, and sometimes we become part of their social community, more than anyone else in their world. They can be so happy to see us.”
Every weekday, HandyDART runs about 4,000 to 5,000 trips, using 340 active vehicles to serve about 2,000 to 2,500 clients. About two-thirds of those trips are “subscription trips,” or regularly scheduled customer trips for things like renal dialysis or cancer treatment. The rest are casual trips, or one-time trips reserved by customers as they require them.
Let’s take a short sidebar to explain a bit more about HandyDART and how it works. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes to make the system operate!
So if you’re newly disabled and want to start using HandyDART, you just sign up by filling an application form out. (You can download it from the website or call the Access Transit office at 778-452-2860 to have it mailed to you.)
HandyDART’s registration office will then make sure they’ve captured all of the details of your disability and mobility aids you need, so they can provide the right type of service when you require it.
After you’re in the system, you can start making reservations for trips. You can make as many requests as you want — we’re only limited by the number of resources we actually have on hand.
The reservations all go to the schedulers at HandyDART, who build the schedules in advance. Since HandyDART is a shared ride service, the schedulers work out the dovetailing of different excursions into single runs. It’s totally dynamic and changes every day.
Then the work is turned over to dispatchers, who deal with the day of service only. They dispatch drivers as needed and readjust schedules, especially when cancellations occur. Or if someone calls in asking for a ride, they can be put on standby, and dispatchers will try to fit them in. Dispatchers are sometimes located at a distance from where the depots are, so that can make for more juggling of information too!
OK, back to our Wednesday trip!
Dave and I drove to the hotel, and it turned out our riders were Kay and Ruth, visiting together from San Francisco and Portland, Oregon respectively!
Dave backed the HandyDART bus into the driveway, and lowered the lift to let our passengers on. Both were using scooters, and Kay and Ruth were able to each drive onto the lift, park their scooters inside, and then take a seat on the bus.
HandyDART has a different fare structure from conventional transit. There are actually 10 zones and no concession fares: fares start at $2.50 for one or two zones, $3.75 for three zones, and $5 for four or more zones. But since Kay and Ruth had Olympic event tickets, the transit payment was already folded into their ticket price, and they rode free on transit all day :)
Here Dave secures the scooters so they don’t roll around!
Ruth and Kay’s travel agent had booked the HandyDART service for them, so it hadn’t been a problem getting the rides arranged. They were headed to the USA-Switzerland men’s hockey match in the morning — plus another hockey game on Friday, and figure skating and the closing ceremonies, too.
It turned out they’d been to many Olympics together — they’d attended the Games in Atlanta, and in Salt Lake City. They go to the events, but they also use the trip to get together with each other, and with friends who are also visiting for the Olympics or who live near the Games city. “It’s an excursion,” said Kay. “It’s hard work putting it together.”
I asked how each Games compared to the next, in terms of accessibility. “They get better as they go along,” said Kay. “Atlanta was terrible because they had no idea what to do with handicapped people. I was pushing Ruth in a wheelchair for 90 minutes in 96 degree weather.”
“But here, the first guy told us the first day said ‘We’ll never leave without you and we’re supposed to pick you up. So everyone’s been very supportive.”
The only tiny snag is that their hotel is so new, some HandyDART drivers don’t know where it is. “They said it didn’t exist and they tried to take us somewhere else,” said Kay. “I said ‘Stick with me kid, we’ll be there!'”
We arrived at the venue and Dave helped both Kay and Ruth off the HandyDART vehicle. At every Olympic venue, a spot near to the entrance has been designated as the accessible pickup/dropoff for vehicles like HandyDART. For Canada Hockey Place, it is the corner of Beatty and Dunsmuir Streets, right across from Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain Station.
I asked Dave if he would be picking up Kay and Ruth after the game, and he said, in fact, someone else would. “It’s a massive jigsaw puzzle, and they’re moving buses all over the city,” he said. “They’ll find a HandyDART bus within the area of the dropoff to pick them up.”
Dave guided both Kay and Ruth to the corner, and they were off on their way. They were both able to scooter into the venue from that drop off.
And when I said thanks to Kay and Ruth for helping out with this article, Kay said she was happy to help. “Like I told the fellow on the phone,” she said. “It was great to have an opportunity to work with HandyDART because they’ve been so good.”
Thanks again, Kay, Ruth, and Dave! And thanks to HandyDART for your service!