HandyDart users demanding end to month-long labour dispute

The month-old labour dispute between HandyDart drivers and MVT, a Translink contractor, is a daily disaster for HandyDart users.

Rest assured that any dispute of a similar length against Coast Mountain Bus or Skytrain would be daily headline news. Not so for HandyDart.

Yet most HandyDart customers are rendered housebound by a transit strike, as this Georgia Straight report makes clear — they have no other way to travel.

This week Vancouver City Council is will debate this motion I have introduced calling for binding arbitration.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1724, which represents the drivers, has been both for and against binding arbitration, but now says this is the way to get a settlement. MVT president John Siragusa makes the case for a negotiated settlement in today’s Sun.

Either way, a solution is needed now that lays the basis for a long-term improvement in service. Here’s how my old friend and HandyDart regular Sue Martin rated MVT in a recent e-mail:

I know Vancouver city council has no direct say in the HandyDart contract negotiations, but you do have a voice that could be helpful.

HandyDart clients — I’m one of them and I talk to many more — are very supportive of the drivers. They are generally friendly and helpful, and it’s a shame they are paid far less than regular bus drivers, even though they provide far more service to passengers, including meeting them at the door, loading and unloading them, waiting a few minutes if necessary for the client to get ready, and so on.

We know that the private operator that took over the regional HandyDart service from a number of smaller non-profits was supposed to deliver efficiencies, but if you’re a passenger, you wouldn’t know it. Clients have a half-hour window during which they’re supposed to expect their rides to arrive, as before. But under the old system, they arrived within the first few minutes of the window, or even earlier, far more often than they do now. The drivers tell us that now, when they start their shifts, they are handed a work sheet with a schedule that they can tell at a glance they won’t be able to keep up with. So they’re constantly running late and scrambling to catch up.

This is very noticeable to HandyDart clients. We are waiting longer for rides than we used to; from time to time, they arrive well outside the half-hour window. So we allow more time so we can get to our medical and other appointments on time and a return trip of, say, 15 minutes each way can involve waiting and travelling time of as much as two hours.

The new contractor, MVT, has so far failed to deliver anything close to time-sensitive service.

This is the home of Rick Hansen, whose advocacy resulted in increased handicapped awareness the city is now known for. He was also advocating for disabled people to be viewed as real people, citizens even, with human rights. You can’t be a participant in society if you can’t be mobile, and there is still a long way to go there.

Unfortunately, the current HandyDart service is a step backward in that regard. Some of us worry that during the Paralympic Games next year, when Vancouver should be seen as an international showcase for accessibility, service will actually be worse for regular clients as HandyDart resources are drawn away to transport Games athletes and clients to game events. (I haven’t confirmed this, but during previous events, including the world wheelchair curling championships held here last February, that was the case.)

As I said, the ridership is very supportive of the drivers. We know they care about the people they serve, and they deserve to be treated better than this. Anything you can do to make the public and TransLink more aware of this is greatly appreciated.