The return of buses to Chilliwack has been welcome since the transit strike ended and service was restored in early August. But according to Denise Kowalski, some things have changed from pre to post strike.
Kowalski lives in Greendale with her 34-year-old daughter, Tara, who uses a wheelchair to get around. The handyDART is needed to get her to medical and other appointments. But according to Kowalski, B.C. Transit has pulled back on that service coming out of the strike.
“For disabled people, the handyDART service in what is deemed rural areas like South Sumas Road, Greendale, Yarrow, etc. is now limited,” Kowalski suggested. “This is a new policy since the strike ended.”
Kowalski received a letter on July 24 saying service is limited to the hours of 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday to Friday for Cultus Lake, Chilliwack Lake Road and Yarrow along with parts of Lickman Road, Ryder Lake, Rosedale, and west of Chilliwack Mountain.
Kowalski said she recently tried to book her daughter a ride to a 10:20 a.m. doctor’s appointment on Mary Street in downtown Chilliwack and was told no. With the new hours, pickup to get to a 10:20 a.m. appointment would have been outside of that window.
“We rearranged her appointment for the following day at 12:30, an we were again told she could not book handyDART because she could not guarantee she would be on the bus by 12:45,” Kowalski said. “Before the strike my daughter was able to access handyDART during operating hours. There was no limited service.”
In an emailed response to The Progress, B.C. Transit confirmed that while hours of operation for handyDART service in Chilliwack continue to be 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, service in rural parts of the transit system may be limited at times due to bus availability and the length of time required for return trips to those areas.
“This supports the efficient use of resources to service as many handyDART,” the response noted. “While this has been communicated to our customers, we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause as we work to maintain an equitable service for all our handyDART customers.”
Kowalski’s daughter has a standing gym appointment outside of service hours that she’s been able to keep after being grandfathered in, but otherwise,
“The dispatch office was very kind and understanding but said they were given this new policy and have to adhere to it,” she said.
For Tara, the changes mean a loss of independence. While she said she loves her handyDART drivers and dispatchers, she is feeling mad and sad.
“Being able to take handyDart makes me feel I can get to things on my own, just like anyone else does,” she said. “I can’t take Uber and taxis cost way to much. I’m stuck depending on my mom to get me places like I was a little kid.
“I understand that policies change but the change is very restricting. Because of where I live, I feel like I’m no longer valued as a customer. And this change affects a lot of people not just me.”
For Kowalski, it’s getting harder to help Tara as the years go by, and handyDART has always been invaluable. She views the changes as B.C. Transit showing no care or concern for disabled people trying to be independent.
“I work, and that’s an issue, but also we do not have a wheelchair van, so Tara transfers in and I lift or guide her power chair into the back,” she said. “That’s not an easy task anymore. As I get older, knowing that she is able to take care of herself and is comfortable and able to arrange and travel on handyDART and have freedom and independence has always given me peace of mind.“
That will no longer be the case.