I just sent an email to Martin Lay, director in charge of accessibility at TransLink. HandyDart is an accessible door-to-door transit service in in all of the British Columbia’s larger centres, as well as in many smaller communities. It uses vans and small buses to transport disabled or elderly passengers who cannot use the normal transit system.
I was not aware, but the service has actually been provided by independent contractors. Tim Louis takes credit for founding the system, and its previous operator, the Pacific Transit Cooperative. As far as I can make out, it went bankrupt because it was paying high wages (but you know that that is always just one side of the story). Translink then went out to find a new contractor, and awarded the contract to MVT Canadian Bus in late 2008.
Some useful background links
I’m writing this from the perspective of a Vancouver citizen; I find it difficult to get a good picture beyond that.
- Translink’s HandyDart page
- MVT Canadian Bus, current operator (or not)
- HandyDart Workers Support Group (on Facebook)
- Todd Brayer writes about the HandyDart Strike in The Tyee
- Matthew Burrows writes about the strike in the Georgia Straight
- Dean Brown writes about the strike in the Common Ground
- handydart.info a neutral website with background information.
The text of my email
(Dated: December 26, 2009)
Dear Mr. Lay,
I just learned that the operator of the HandyDart, MVT Canadian Bus, is not providing the service they were contracted for. As I understand, they were awarded the contract and took over operations at the beginning of 2009. After ten months a labor dispute lead to a strike which has been ongoing since October 26.
I understand that the HandyDart drivers are paid less than “ordinary bus drivers”. Due to the nature of the service, I would have expected them to be paid more! There is more responsibility, and the job is more demanding and requires more skill. Furthermore the users of the service are more dependent on it.
While the HandyDart drivers have a right to strike, I feel that Translink is obliged to provide the service. This is simply an issue of whether Canada is a civilized nation or not. If they have made a poor choice by sub-contracting to MVT Canadian Bus company, that means that Translink needs to urgently work on a more reliable operation. Urgent as in there needs to be a solution tomorrow.
For the time being, the blurb on Translink’s website, “A truly great transit system opens its doors for everyone,” is empty and shallow.
Updates (December 31)
(Not part of the email). Three updates:
- From CBC News: “Five hundred striking Metro Vancouver HandyDART workers will start returning to work on Monday after more than two months of picketing. [...] The union began taking down its picket lines on Thursday morning after the union and employer MVT Canadian Bus agreed to binding arbitration.” — good news for those who depend on HandyDart.
- I received a lengthy reply from Martin Lay, two days after sending my email.
- I have heared in the meantime that the Pacific Transit Co-op still exists (I had written it is bankrupt). A comment to that effect was made on Facebook – but the comment is now gone (Facebook not being reliable for communication).