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Custom transit, HandyDART, and the Taxi Pilot Project: what’s going on?

HandyDART vehicle

A HandyDART vehicle on the move.

One of the topics we haven’t often addressed on the blog is the custom transit part of our transit services – HandyDART. HandyDART is a door-to-door shared ride service [1] for people with disabilities.

Just like the conventional transit system, demand is up for HandyDART. People who use conventional transit sometimes experience pass-ups, especially on our most heavily used routes. On HandyDART runs, we can record these as trip denials – a customer requests a trip and there isn’t one available for the time requested.

As demand goes up, so too have HandyDART trip denials, and this is a big concern for us. (It’s worth noting that we started to more accurately record denials data in 2010, which resulted in a marked uptick in the number of denials.) TransLink has been managing this by getting more efficient with operations, including HandyDART (service optimization [2], anyone?).

Today, HandyDART provides more trips to customers than five years ago – 1.21 million in 2012, compared with 1.17 million in 2008 – using approximately the same number of annual service hours.  3% of all trips were denied in 2012.

Testing solutions: the Taxi Pilot Project

When you think of HandyDART, the distinctive yellow and white buses probably come to mind. But HandyDART isn’t tied to just one type of vehicle. For example, using taxis is a practice already used successfully here and in other North American cities.

Using taxis to provide some HandyDART trips is one way to provide more rides with the same number of service hours. This year, we’ve had a Taxi Pilot Project [3] underway, which has moved about 10,000 hours of service usually delivered by HandyDART vehicles to taxis (less than 2% of annual HandyDART service hours). Taxis provide this service in areas and at times when our regular vehicles would not be very full.

This is still a HandyDART service, and does not reduce overall HandyDART service. Customers get door-to-door service, pay the same fare and book their trip in the same way. If they have a concern, they contact HandyDART customer service, just as they would for a trip on a HandyDART vehicle.

With the Taxi Pilot, we expect to deliver 7,000 more trips this year to our HandyDART customers.  Those who are able to make a trip by taxi on select routes will have that service, thereby freeing up trips for others whose needs are best met by HandyDART vehicles. As it is a pilot, we’re closely monitoring the outcomes, and listening to what our customers tell us as part of our evaluation.

Addressing custom transit challenges

One of our HandyDART vehicles in action!

One of our HandyDART vehicles in action!

Trip denials aren’t the only thing we need to focus on when looking to provide more HandyDART rides with our current funding and resources. A couple of the other issues we’re grappling with:

We’re working to address these and other challenges through an ongoing Custom Transit Service Review [4]. We’ve been through a couple rounds of stakeholder consultation, with another round planned for 2014, and it’s bound to garner a lot of conversation.

It’s clear from the lively conversations that take place here on the blog, that many of our regular readers recognize there is a lot of pressure on our transit system. Even though people want and need more transportation services, the financial reality is there are no new funding sources to pay for more. It’s not always easy to find solutions that make everybody happy.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, and if there are any questions we can answer about HandyDART.

Author: Tina Robinson