Kevin McBride doesn't use TransLink coupons for halfpriced taxis all that often, but as a blind man he likes the peace of mind the option provides.
"It gives a person a feeling of having independence," said McBride, a resident of Champlain Heights who usually receives rides from his wife.
"It's available at all hours, it can take us door-to-door in situations where transit service is not readily available. Cancelling this service is immensely stupid and it's harmful to very vulnerable parts of the population. We are usually not people with big financial resources."
TransLink's board of directors decided at an in-camera meeting May 2 to eliminate TaxiSavers for seniors and people with disabilities.
Metro Vancouverites who qualify for HandyDART services, which need to be booked one to seven days in advance, can buy a maximum of $100 worth of TaxiSaver fares for $50 in one month. "TaxiSavers allow seniors and people with disabilities to go to the beach on a sunny day, to go to the doctor when running a fever, to accept dinner invitations from friends, etc." wrote Jill Weiss, chair of the city's Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee, in a media release.
"These are options that people who are not reliant on HandyDART take for granted."
TransLink will start phasing out TaxiSavers this summer. Money saved from the service will increase the use of taxis to supplement the HandyDART service. HandyDART uses taxis when a van isn't available and client care isn't compromised. Clients pay the regular transit fare and TransLink pays the difference. TransLink expects eliminating TaxiSavers will save $1.1 million per year for the next three years. The transit authority will reinvest $200,000 in supplemental taxi service.
TransLink notes its bus fleet is now fully accessible for people with mobility devices and that HandyDART didn't run until midnight, as it does now, when TaxiSavers were introduced 20 years ago.
But advocates for seniors and people with disabilities point to 2010 statistics from the Canadian Urban Transport Association that reports trips from vans and buses dedicated to people with disabilities cost $32 for an average one-way trip, whereas taxi trips cost $16. TaxiSaver users pay half the cost of each taxi trip, so the cost would be $8 to TransLink, Weiss said. "A taxi ride is much cheaper than a HandyDART ride, there's no question," agreed Jane Dyson, executive director of the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities. "There's the issue of taking away independence and dignity from people who use the TaxiSaver program, and in terms of cost effectiveness, it doesn't make any sense."
TaxiSaver coupons will no longer be accepted by the end of June 2013.
TransLink spokesperson Drew Snider said Friday that TransLink may be flexible about implementation and will discuss services with concerned groups.