The Handydart/Taxi Ride Conclusion: Circling Around And Going No Where.

 

Quite a few people have asked online and off, for an update on what, if any, response I had from the City of Vancouver and in particular Mayor Gregor Robertson regarding my letter outlining an unpleasant experience I had with a taxi driver sent on behalf of Handydart.

The short answer: I never did get a reply – not even an acknowledgment of receipt of my email – from Mayor Robertson.

On the advice of someone online, I subsequently contacted Councillor Andrea Reimer. I also contacted numerous others. The results of these contacts are outlined below.

I apologize for the length of this post but I felt accuracy was important. I have attempted to keep my own views to a minimum and just lay out the facts. I have also tried to make this easy to skim. If you have any questions or comments, as always, just let me know.

handydart


First I want to share some other important information.

TransLink is planning to continue to use taxis as a substitute for Handydart and  they will likely expand the use of them.

In 2013 Handydart  used between 24,000 – 30,000  taxis to cover Handydart trips.

In 2015 that number had basically quadrupled to around 100,000 trips.

Merrilee Ashworth of TransLink explained they are looking to the models of Calgary and Montreal, where  47% and 85% respectively, of Handydart-type rides are provided by taxis.

It is important to note that both these cities have clear, easily accessed, public processes for handling taxi complaints. The City of Vancouver does not.

calgary taxi complaints

The increase, according to  Ashworth, is because Handydart was refusing a large number of trips due to lack of drivers and buses. Using taxis has allowed them to dramatically (my notes from the conversation say 3,000 – 4,000 trip denials/month – or approximately 2% of total trip requests – dropped to 100 trip denials/month but need to verify).

By using taxis in place of Handydart drivers Ashworth said there is significant savings on labour, vehicle and depot costs and depreciation.

It is worth noting we have this data because Handydart is a publicly funded, publicly run service. Based on my experience documented below, no thought has been put into tracking or addressing the potential impact on the other numbers – customer satisfaction and safety ratings –  when a public service is sub-contracted out to a private company with seemingly little to no public accountability. By making this dramatic change in approach, I believe those responsible have not only failed to consider whether taxis can properly fulfill the service (particularly with no additional training for taxi drivers and no accompanying changes to legislation at the provincial or municipal level), but have not established any process for what happens when they do not.

Customer satisfaction results from market research posted in 2012 prior to the increased use of taxis:

handydart satisfaction 2012

Handydart is in danger of becoming Handydart in name only. Thee entire point of the service is to ensure door to door transportation and assistance provided by well-trained staff to the people in our community who require it.

In my experience many people on the Handydart bus are going to and from chemotherapy, dialysis and other medical appointments.

A medical authority must justify why Handydart is required before you can use the service.

Handydart is not intended to be and does not operate as a Cadillac service.


Here are the results of the unfortunate experience I outlined in my previous post.

January 2016

  • On January 27th, 2016 I was held for a period of what I estimate to be several minutes, against my will in a Yellow Cab. This happened after the driver refused to secure the wheelchair, argued that it was not necessary and then lied about doing so. At that point I stated – quite calmly – ‘you know what, I don’t think this is going to work out. Please let me out and I will arrange for a different ride.’ Things escalated from there.

  • Upon finally being able to exit the taxi, (the ramp was up), I immediately called Handydart and informed them what had transpired.

  • I was quite shaken but got into another taxi and went to my meeting.

  • When the meeting was over, I realized I felt quite anxious about getting into a taxi so I wheeled home.

  • I received a follow-up voicemail from Handydart customer service which I decided to return the following day as it seemed prudent to allow some time to pass and the adrenaline and emotions to subside.

  • On January 28th I spoke with Handydart Customer Service and as usual found them to be pleasant and professional.  I was informed that Handydart has no direct authority over taxi drivers even though the taxi drivers are sub-contracted by Handydart. In other words, I book a ride through Handydart trusting that I will receive the level of service they have consistently demonstrated over the years with their well-trained staff, and I am sent a taxi driver who is not accountable to me (I am not technically his customer) or Handydart. I was informed that complaints involving taxi drivers are left to the discretion of the taxi company. Handydart does not even know the identity of the driver being dispatched, thus there is no mechanism for them to track repeat offenders. To me, there seemed to be many significant flaws in this process: I spoke with Handydart who in turn spoke with the general manager of the taxi company who then spoke with the driver – all of which amounted to my being told he had a different version of events and the GM knew him to be a nice man and she was not prepared to take any action. Handydart could do nothing further.

  • As a result, on January 28th I sent an email to all the Members of TransLink Mayors’ Council as well as the Board of Governors.

  • On January 28th I received replies from Mayor Lois Jackson (Delta); Mayor Nicole Read (Maple Ridge); a staff member from Lion’s Bay City Hall acknowledged receipt and expressed concern; as well I received an automated acknowledgement of receipt from Mayor Linda Hepner’s office (Surrey) and finally I also received a telephone call that evening from Mayor Richard Stewart (Coquitlam). Mayor Stewart said he receives numerous telephone calls from residents about the taxis.

  • In Mayor Jackson’s reply on January 28th, in addition to expressing her concern and thanking me for bringing the matter to her attention, she sent my email to Mike Buda, Executive Director of the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation, along with a request that he ensure: the matter be brought forward at the next meeting of TransLink’s mayors council; the taxi industry as a whole be evaluated by TransLink for standards of service and that in particular the industry be evaluated in terms of its ability to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

  • My letter was also posted on this blog and tweeted to the Mayor’s Twitter page and that of the City of Vancouver.

  • At the suggestion of Mike Buda, I contacted the Vancouver Police Department’s Taxi Team on two or three occasions. Unable to reach anyone, I left voicemail messages requesting a return telephone call.

  • Also, while Mike Buda informed me that the Mayor’s Council does not have jurisdiction over Handydart, it is important to note that Mayor Gregor Robertson is also a member of the Board of Governors of TransLink.

February 2016

  • On February 3, 2016, I still had  no reply or acknowledgment of receipt of my email from the Mayor of Vancouver. Someone on Twitter suggested I try contacting Andrea Reimer

  • Andrea Reimer promptly contacted me and said she and the mayor are very busy. When I mentioned that I had heard back from other mayors in other cities of which I was not a resident, Reimer said those mayors were not as busy. The conversation ended with Reimer agreeing to bring my email to Mayor Robertson’s attention.

  • Also on February 3, I contacted the Vancouver Police Department Taxi Team again. I was able to ascertain an email address (as a result of Twitter) and forwarded a copy of my email.

    vpd taxi team

  • I later spoke with a constable at the Vancouver Police Department Taxi Team. A more colourful account of that conversation is included in another post. Sticking to the facts – the officer had called, spoken to and in his mind resolved the issue with the owner of the taxi company before speaking to me. He said the owner of the taxi company knew me and that she had already spoken to me and that I had called on previous occasions.

  • The first part of that statement I know to be completely false. I called Handydart immediately following the incident and the following day. At no time did I call Yellow Cab, in part because I had ordered the ride through Handydart which is governed by TransLink and thus felt they were the appropriate bodies to call, and in part because as a publicly-operated service I hoped they would be more accountable. I have spoken with the manager of a different taxi company, Vancouver Taxi, in the past including when one of his drivers shoved my wheelchair hard from behind without warning causing it to tip and for me to do a faceplant (with the wheelchair still attached) on the sidewalk. leaving me with multiple abrasions and bruises as a result. No action was taken. I was not even offered a refund.

  • I am relatively certain I have never spoken to the owner of Yellow Cab in my life but perhaps I have in the past.

  • The insinuation seemed to be that I was a ‘complainer’ and I felt the officer was uninterested in speaking with me or taking any action. He actually asked me “Do taxis even have to secure wheelchairs? Is there a law requiring them to?”

  • As a result the officer’s comments I felt now in addition to having been held against my will inside a taxi  (something that seemed of concern to no one but myself), my integrity was under attack as the officer made it clear that he knew the owner of Yellow Cab quite well and that if she said she spoke to me he believed her. He consistently refused to take any action.

  • In the end, after a great deal of insistence on my part, the officer agreed to meet with the driver. He assured me this would be seen as significant because it is something he never does.

  • *I am trying to keep the editorializing to a minimum in this post however, I want to comment about this interaction. I held no illusions about this being a major case. I think my  expectations have been realistic throughout. My go-to when in unsatisfactory interactions is not confrontation – it is reason. After the taxi driver repeatedly refused to release me from his cab, I said to him “I want you to think about what you are doing. You are keeping me in this taxi against my will and that is illegal.” I repeated various versions of this several times. I did this because I  believed the driver was perhaps more worried about the ramifications of having me request another driver (because he refused to secure the wheelchair) than of keeping me captive. I wanted to ensure he realized he was now escalating a customer complaint into criminal conduct. In other words, I exhausted politeness and reason before resorting to informing him I was dialing 911 and heading into fight or flight mode.

  • All I have asked – from beginning to end – is that people do their jobs and accord me an appropriate level of respect. I was not calling the police to make a criminal complaint – or I would have called the main police line. There was no justification to belittle me or make insinuations about my character.

  • For the record, since moving to Vancouver over a decade ago, this is the first time I have contacted Vancouver City Hall with a complaint of any kind and it is my first attempt to make an ‘official’ complaint about a taxi driver-ever-anywhere- in my life.

  • This officer also stated that he, the City of Vancouver and the taxi industry have round table discussions the substance of which is always praise for the taxis and never any complaints and that as far as he knew there was a high level of satisfaction with taxi service in Vancouver.

  • I find it ironic that what finally made the taxi driver (whose identity I know but have never publicly stated because, unlike many I have dealt with, I respect the process), release me from the taxi after ignoring  my repeated requests for him to do so, was pulling out my cell phone and telling him I was calling the police. In other words the police were only of assistance to me when they were not actually  involved.

  • As a result of the officers lack of clarity about the law, I contacted the City of Vancouver and asked to speak with the taxi licensing office. The woman I spoke to  explained that securing wheelchairs is indeed the law, and is fully explained to the drivers as part of the taxi licensing training.

  • The woman told me that beyond issuing licenses to drivers, the City has no involvement with establishing or enforcing of what drivers do once receiving their licenses. She said that fell under the jurisdiction of the provincial government.

  • I inquired about the round table meetings the VPD officer mentioned and asked whether I could attend one and was informed they are closed, not posted and only happen when one member of the committee requests them.

  • She directed me to contact the Passenger Transportation Branch of the Ministry of Transportation.

  • I later had an additional conversation with Handydart customer service who informed me that taxi drivers are also supposed to provide wheelchair passengers with a shoulder strap. I told her that I was not even aware there were shoulder straps in the back of taxis because in all my years of using them I had never once been offered one. (I have since, subsequent to that conversation, had one driver provide me with a shoulder strap.)

  • On February 16th I received acknowledgement from the Ministry of Transportation and a file number for my complaint.

  • Things worth noting about the complaint process: It is done over the telephone and the content of the complaint is therefore at the discretion of the person at the call center handling the intake. (Based on the sound of keyboarding – or lack of it – my sense was the individual took down little more than my name. This was confirmed when I received the acknowledgment letter stating that my complaint was simply that the driver failed to secure wheelchair properly, which was certainly the least substantive or significant aspect of my complaint.)

BC Passenger Safety Branch, Ministry of Transportation- Taxi Bill of Rights.

Rights without remedies are …?

bc taxi bill of rights

  • On February 16th I replied to the Passenger Transportation Inspector of the Passenger Transportation Branch to clarify that failing to secure my wheelchair was not the reason for my complaint – rather, that the taxi driver holding me in his cab against my will was.

  • On February 23, I received a reply from the Passenger Transportation Inspector that suggests she and the Passenger Transportation Branch of the Ministry of Transportation completely ignored the substance of my complaint. “…[redacted by me] gave permission to release the following information to you. ‘After conversations with the driver [redacted by me] , Cst. Kevin Barker and [redacted by me] Coalition for persons with disabilities for the City of Vancouver, I find that the driver did error in not securing her wheel chair properly at the back, but do not find reason to suspend him. He has been spoken to by Cst. Kevin Barker, and myself and I am confident going forward that he will never do this again. He truly is a very nice man who does not mean any harm to anyone”.

  • Ultimately all decisions about consequences – or in this case lack of them – for this driver who was paid with public funds, were left to the discretion of a private business operator.

  • The Transportation Inspector also sent me links to relevant legislation I requested, specifically the section of the Motor Vehicles Act that the VPD Taxi Team officer was unaware of requiring taxis to secure wheelchairs.

  • To reiterate – the driver did not err – he lied – after refusing to secure my wheelchair, he then claimed he had done so, which when I glanced back discovered not to be the case. There were no straps attached to my wheelchair.  Nor was the wheelchair properly secured at the front. But more importantly this was not the basis of my complaint. That the driver did not secure the wheelchair was why I asked to be released from the taxi – that he then refused to do so, was the basis of my complaint.

  • The transportation inspector also suggested I call and speak directly to the manager of Yellow Cab. I have not done so and do not plan to for multiple reasons: 1) I did not contract with Yellow Cab, I contracted with Handydart which is operated by TransLink; 2) When I have called the manager of another taxi company about on other occasions – such as when one shoved me hard from behind without warning causing me to be flung forward onto the sidewalk resulting in multiple abbrasions and bruises, nothing has been done; 3) according to the officer with the VPD Taxi Team  this individual misrepresented the situation and said she had spoken with me when indeed we had not; 4) the general manager has already articulated she is satisfied with the situation and is refusing to take any actions as a result.

  • I was out of options.

March 2016

  • On March 21, I received an email from Andrea Reimer.

ANdrea reimer

Please note, as mentioned above and documented here, my contact with Mike Buda, was the result of the efforts of the Mayor Jackson of Delta on January 28th.

lois jackson

One of my primary reasons for contacting the elected representatives, namely Mayor Gregor Robertson, was because I believe what happened to me on this and other occasions highlight issues that need to be addressed at a legislative level.

I raised those concerns in my original letter.

No one has addressed or been willing to engage in dialogue about those issues.

taxi complaint

 

 

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