British Columbia

Vancouver Island woman says handyDART left her stranded in snowstorm

A snowstorm on Vancouver Island reduced accessible bus service to "essential service" levels. A rider said no one told her that, and she was left stranded in her power chair, far from home, as snow fell around her.

BC Transit spokesperson says company wants to follow up with rider, look into matter

Brentwood Bay woman Caroline Lennox, who relies on a power chair for mobility, says accessible bus service in Victoria left her stranded in the cold Monday. (Caroline Lennox)

A Vancouver Island woman who relies on a power chair for mobility said she was left stranded by handyDART Monday during a heavy snowfall.

Caroline Lennox, a 51-year-old resident of Brentwood Bay, had travelled to the Victoria courthouse Monday afternoon for a divorce matter.

Lennox said she had booked her return trip home, about 20 kilometres away, two weeks in advance.

Monday saw much of Vancouver Island blanketed by snow, however, and B.C. Transit announced handyDART service would be used for essential trips only: critical medical appointments such as dialysis appointments.

Heavy snow on Vancouver Island left many Greater Victoria streets perilous for drivers. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Lennox was not told of this, she said. When she called a dispatcher to ask if her ride home was going to be on time, she was shocked to find out it was cancelled.

"So, if I hadn't called, then, I would have been just outside the courthouse at four o'clock at the appointed time, waiting and waiting and not knowing that there was never going to be a ride coming," Lennox said.

In the end, she said, it took her three hours to get home by busing part of the way and taking a cab the rest.

Many buses couldn't cope with the heavy snowfall on Vancouver Island and some were left completely stuck. (Liam Britten/CBC)

What is essential?

Lennox explained that she was upset, not only that she allegedly wasn't contacted about the cancelled ride, but also that essential service levels are so limited.

She said her court appointment was absolutely essential and for B.C. Transit not to consider it so shows a lack of understanding of the needs of people with disabilities.

"I respect that they have to do what's safe for their drivers ... but what I don't respect is that court is not considered an essential service," she said.

"I think it says that they haven't really asked the participating community to be involved in the service definition and the service delivery model."

B.C. Transit to follow up

B.C. Transit spokesperson Jonathan Dyck said handyDART service is particularly challenging in the snow because it is door-to-door service. That means drivers not only contend with road conditions but also sidewalks.

He said someone will follow up with Lennox about what happened with her ride Monday.

"We take these matters very seriously," Dyck told All Points West host Robyn Burns. "We want to make sure handyDART riders have their rides … We will look into that internally."

He said the handyDART service provider in Victoria has called in extra personnel to help move people, but the service will remain at essential service levels Wednesday.

Problems at the best of times

Wendy Cox, executive director of the Victoria Disability Resource Centre, said, in theory, the handyDART system is great: door-to-door service for people with mobility challenges, provided by small buses and taxi vouchers when a bus ride can't be arranged.

But in practise, she added, it has many limitations: rides need to be booked two weeks in advance and getting an accessible cab is tough, especially before 6 p.m.

Riders are told to be ready 30 minutes before the ride shows up but sometimes wait an hour.

HandyDART services in B.C. — like this example of a Metro Vancouver vehicle — have been criticized by some for insufficient service levels. (CBC)

"A simple trip to get groceries, something that would take most people an hour or two, could be a half a day event or longer," Cox said in an email, adding that, in conditions like these, riders can be left out in the cold for extended periods of time.

"For people whose bodies do not regulate temperature or those who have poor circulation, this can have a very negative effect on their bodies. It can take hours to warm up again."

Lennox says she has an appointment to speak with her MLA, Adam Olsen, about her concerns with handyDART.

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West


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