VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – TransLink is putting the brakes on its plan to cancel its Taxi Saver program, at least for now.
CEO Ian Jarvis and other TransLink bosses heard from dozens of saver users, some blind and in wheelchairs, at their Annual General Meeting today. All were outraged at the plan to phase out the discount program in the summer and use the savings for more HandyDart service.

“We are extremely disappointed at this decision,” says Jane Dyson with the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities. “Over the last few months, we have heard more and more complaints about HandyDart and that more and more rides are not being fulfilled.”

“We know that a HandyDart trip is much more expensive than a taxi trip, so from a budget and operational standpoint the plan to eliminate Taxi Savers makes no sense,” she says, adding many people with mobility and digestive issues can’t use public transit.

Craig Langston with TransLink’s Access Transit Users’ Advisory Committee took issue with the company’s assertion his group was consulted before the decision to get rid of the Taxi Savers.  

“We were informed of the Board’s decision, at no time were we ever consulted on that,” stresses Langston. “In my mind, telling us [about the decision] is not consultation.”

A man identifying himself as a HandyDart driver says their passengers prefer their service when it’s available, but says the need to book ahead limits some people.

“If you’re searching for a job and they call you and [ask] you to come in on short notice, you go when they want, if you want the job,” he says, listing off scenarios where people would use the savers instead. “If you’re doing exams and the schedule is announced late or changed at the last minute. If you’ve been waiting for a specialist and a time comes up, if your doctor wants you to get a treatment or a test immediately.”

Betty Newton believes without Taxi Savers, older women like her won’t go out because they won’t feel safe.

“Our life is not governed in three-day bookings down the road and seven-day bookings down the road,” she notes.

Ian Jarvis says it’s clear TransLink needs to hear from more people before it decides on the fate of Taxi Savers.  

“We’re taking a step back,” he says. “Our objective remains of using the resources that go into the Taxi Saver program to provide more service [to] people that need it. Clearly when we took that decision forward to the [TransLink] board, we hadn’t done enough to understand the implications. So today we’re starting re-engaging with folks [who] are impacted by that decision.”

No word yet when TransLink might make a final decision on Taxi Savers.

Funding still a challenge: Jarvis

TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis says even though more people are riding SkyTrains and buses, TransLink is still looking for more funding sources to maintain and expand service.

“Ridership up is great,” believes Jarvis, but he notes they’re being pinched; with more people taking transit rather than driving, revenues from the fuel tax are down.

“The fuel tax is under pressure right now. That’s a positive in terms of people…driving less, it has positive impacts on the economy, but it has an impact on revenues.”

“Really, what’s dependent on is getting consensus around the amount of funding and who pays,” Jarvis adds. “That will determine the [future] plan. In terms of the actual services, I think if you look at our plans today, they certainly will form part of that plan that we will be consulting on later this year.”

Local mayors recently quashed the idea to help pay for transit through a property tax hike and TransLink is being audited by the province.