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Cost, Demand for DARTS Accessible Transit Service Continues to Grow

Executive director Mark Mindorff said eligibility requirements and service area are behind the rise News Feb 12, 2019
by Natalie Paddon The Hamilton Spectator

Mayor Fred Eisenberger wants to see city staff compare the cost of DARTS to accessible transit services in other municipalities.

The request followed a presentation by the DARTS’ CEO and executive director at Monday’s general issues committee meeting where he said the budget and demand for the door-to-door transportation service continue to rise.

“Every year we demand that you reduce your cost and we full well know that the demand for the service is going up,” Eisenberger said during the operating budget meeting. “What’s wrong with that picture?”

DARTS’ 2019 budget ask is $23 million a $4.3 million hike compared to the year prior. There were 773,000 rides completed last year compared to the 720,000 budgeted. Based on 2018 passenger registration information, the non-profit charitable organization believes it should plan for between 820,000 and 850,000 rides in 2019.

Mark Mindorff, head of the transportation service, said they are a unique system for a number of reasons, including their offering of several types of vehicles like vans and MVs (a purpose-built accessible vehicle) and serving a larger service area that includes rural communities.

Their demand for service really started to grow in 2012 when, to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), DARTS’ eligibility expanded to all passengers unable to use the HSR, he said. Eligibility is assessed by the HSR.

According to Mindorff’s presentation, this caused an increase in “frail” and “elderly” people who previously were not eligible for DARTs.

Previously, DARTs was available to people who used a wheelchair, walker or scooter, had Alzheimer’s or were on dialysis. With the change, existing users were grandfathered in.

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson questioned DARTS’ cost per trip, which is $3 like the HSR, and questioned how Hamilton has close to three times the number of passengers as Durham, Peel and York.

“We must be doing something wrong,” he said.

Some municipalities re-assess passengers on a regular basis, which is something Hamilton doesn’t do, Mindorff said. He also pointed to DARTS’ conditional eligibility, meaning some passengers are registered to use the service during bad weather only.

Ferguson also asked if riders should be allowed to go to places like Flamboro Downs, which Mindorff said is one of their more popular drop-off spots.

“We’re not policing transit,” Mindorff said.

Earlier in the meeting, DARTS user Paula Kilburn told councillors the value she sees in the service, noting she would like to see its budget increased.

“How can you measure the cost of a person’s independence and dignity?” she asked.

Mohawk College student Jordan Verner has been using DARTS since 2014.

He expressed concerns around wages paid to drivers working for DARTS’ subcontractors. Because they are paid per trip, he worried about drivers missing pickups because they are in a rush.

He asked councillors to consider the implications of a paratransit system that doesn’t receive adequate funding.

“Anybody in this room could become a DARTS user tomorrow,” he said.

Mindorff said that while DARTS is currently sitting at two complaints per 1,000 rides, there is an incentive to rush passengers when drivers are paid on a per-trip basis.

The biggest complaint they receive is for late rides, he noted.

npaddon@thespec.com

905-526-2420 | @NatatTheSpec

Original at https://www.thespec.com/news-story/9171572-cost-demand-for-darts-accessible-transit-service-continues-to-grow/