A Comox Valley man confined to his wheelchair cannot leave his house because of lack of access to the Comox Valley Regional District’s handyDART service.
Blair Polischuk, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and is now a quadriplegic from the degenerative disorder, lives about four kilometres south of Courtenay — near Craigdarroch Beach/north Union Bay, and just shy of the Royston boundary for service.
Despite providing service to parts of Royston, Comox, Cumberland, Courtenay and other outlying areas, the CVRD said there simply isn’t enough vehicles to service people outside its defined boundaries.
Mike Zbarsky, CVRD’s manager of transit and sustainability, said operational boundaries are based upon clients, population and amount of vehicles in service.
“It’s unfortunate those on the far side of Royston are outside the service boundary, but the service is based on the number of vehicles and the number of clients. We have just enough vehicles to service people within the boundaries,” he explained.
Zbarsky added the Comox Valley is quite large and has many rural and agricultural areas, which cannot be serviced like a city or town with a higher-density population.
“It’s not necessarily possible or cost-effective to provide the service,” he explained. “There’s not a fixed route, and it’s more time-consuming to provide the door-to-door service.”
He compared the service to regular transit service — those who live closer to transit stops have better access to the service.
“That’s how transit service works; it’s pretty much like that across the province,” he said.
But Polischuk, who said he does not want to invest in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle due to his terminal condition and can no longer use regular taxi service, explained it’s unfair to compare regular transit service to that of handyDART.
“Unlike the public transit bus system where users can walk to a bus stop, or hitch a ride if far away, handyDART will not allow a user to travel by their own means to a pickup point within a boundary if their residential address falls outside that boundary,” he noted.
“In addition, handyDART is based on booking, I believe, 48 hours in advance — buses run at set times regardless of ridership — so really, the public bus should not be used as an analogy with handyDART.”
Polischuk said he does not live in a remote area, and the general public transit system does service his area.
Zbarsky said although the handyDART service is not available to Polischuk’s residence, he is paying the same amount of taxes as someone living within the service area. Buses covering the general service area are able to accommodate mobility devices with low floors, ramps, and a kneeling function, but Zbarsky admitted it may not work for someone who needs additional assistance.
Zbarsky also noted BC Transit and the CVRD are reviewing the handyDART service, and are looking at ways to improve service. He also added the CVRD will work with the public on the transit master plan to acquire feedback this fall throughout the spring of next year.
For Polischuk though, the solution is simple: Charge more for the handyDART service for those living outside the boundaries to offset time and expense incurred.
“Accessibility is a human right. HandyDART is not meeting the needs of the handicapped community. They, and more importantly, the CVRD need to be held accountable.”