Admitting that TransLink failed to fully understand how disabled people use its services, the agency’s board chair announced Wednesday it is reversing a decision to eliminate a program that provided taxi discount coupons for them.
“I regret any angst we have caused for people. That was never the intent,” said Nancy Olewiler. The board chair formally announced the TaxiSaver program would continue for people who can’t use the region’s regular transit system or its specialized HandyDart buses for all rides.
“But even some of the folks employed in the program didn’t understand all the ways it was used.”
The reversal came after weeks of protests, forums and complaint letters from seniors and disability groups over the plan to eliminate the program in 2013.
Those groups were celebrating Wednesday.
“I do congratulate TransLink. This decision is a very wise one,” said Lorraine Logan, the vice-chair of the Council of Senior Citizens of B.C. “I think the relief is going to be really immense once this gets out. This program was so important because of the freedom seniors get from it.”
Ms. Olewiler said TransLink made the unpopular decision in May because there was an assumption that the regular bus system was much more accessible for disabled people than it had been 20 years earlier when the TaxiSaver program was started.
She said there also had been some concerns about fraud, as people sometimes advertise the TaxiSaver coupons for sale on Craigslist.
The idea was to take the $1.1-million from the TaxiSaver program and put it into HandyDart, the bus system that transports handicapped people on the basis of booked appointments. It is chronically overwhelmed by demand.
“We thought we could reallocate those dollars and we could meet the unmet needs,” said Ms. Olewiler.
It wasn’t a cost-cutting measure aimed at TransLink’s larger financial problems. They have been unfolding all year as the provincial government, the province’s transportation commissioner, and Metro Vancouver mayors all cut off access to potential new pots of money for planned expansions.