Metro Vancouver HandyDART workers call for emergency federal transit funding

THE federal government must provide emergency funding to save the nation’s Public Transit systems, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1724, which represents HandyDART workers in Metro Vancouver, said on Monday.

Last week, TransLink Mayors’ Council chair Jonathan Coté told the Vancouver Sun they would have to start “dramatically deconstructing our transit system here in Metro Vancouver” without emergency funding. TransLink has since announced severe service cuts and many layoffs in the conventional transit system due to their COVID-19 related funding crisis.

The HandyDART system, which provides door to door service for people with disabilities and seniors, is currently operating at reduced service levels. Over 150 casual employees have been affected already, and ATU 1724 is concerned much deeper cuts are imminent.

“HandyDART provides a lifeline for seniors and disabled people, it is integral to the health of our community,” said ATU Local 1724 President Mark Beeching. “The federal and provincial governments must ensure service levels increase to meet the growing demand. Long-term service cuts would be devastating.”

The majority of HandyDART trips are to access health services including life-sustaining treatments like kidney dialysis. Previously planned service increases by TransLink were only enough to maintain inadequate service given the aging population. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely result in long-term health complications and increase demand for HandyDART service.

The provincial government has committed some emergency funding to help restore TransLink transit service as COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, but the federal government has so far refused to provide any assistance.

Adequate HandyDART service is essential for many seniors to live independently rather than going into expensive long-term care, where they are more exposed to infectious diseases like COVID-19.

“This is not just about HandyDART. Frontline workers such as hospital and grocery store workers depend on public transit to get to work. The short-term service cuts TransLink has just announced means that many of these essential workers won’t have a safe way to get to work” said Beeching. “Emergency funding for transit is not an option, it is necessary for the functioning of society”