Hamilton City Council is debating DARTS ridership growth, and the cost of providing para-transit in Hamilton.
This afternoon, Monday, February 11, DARTS Executive Director Mark Mindorff will be in front of Council as some Councillors demand DARTS cut their budget while delivering more service in the coming year.
Para-transit: City Council is legally required to fund the DARTS budget increase – under provincial law, the City must provide para-transit, the City must charge the same fare for para-transit as regular transit. Because regular transit is free for many users of DARTS, DARTS is seeing a decrease in revenue at the same time as the growing number of older seniors and people living independently with chronic medical conditions is increasing demand for DARTS. For all the posturing on DARTS by Council, DARTS is cost-competitive, and the case of DARTS budget issues is Council decisions of the past.
During a January 25, 2019 Council budget meeting, Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who is opposed to the Ten-Year HSR Transit Plan, moved for a review of the arms-length agency which operates Hamilton’s para-transit service.
DARTS, the Disabled and Aged Regional Transit Service, is legally a separate non-profit corporation from the City of Hamilton. DARTS has its own Board of Directors, and its own Executive Director.
Within the Hamilton Street Railway, a duplicate layer of management exists for para-transit oversight of DARTS.
The HSR determines eligibility for DARTS, under strict requirements set by the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
During the past 20 years, the OHRT has set down a series of rulings which have determined that the City of Hamilton is required to fully fund DARTS, that DARTS cannot restrict the number of trips a qualified passenger may take, and that DARTS cannot charge more than the equivalent cost of using the HSR.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act also requires fare parity. [Ontario Regulation 191/11 Section 46.(1)]
All people over the age of 80 ride the HSR for free, all who use a personal mobility device [such as a wheelchair, scooter, or walker] ride the HSR for free under a “voluntary pay” policy. Because of fare parity laws, DARTS must provide free transit to these passengers as well.
Seniors age 65 to 79 pay $295 per year for a HSR annual pass. Similarly, unlimited use of DARTS is $295 per year.
Since 2012, when the City of Hamilton started to fully obey AODA fare parity regulations, the use of DARTS has increased while revenue is decreasing. An aging population is a major factor in the increase, with improved health care enabling more independence for persons with chronic medical conditions to live in the community.
[Council was cautioned in 2009 when they implemented free HSR transit for persons over the age of 80 that the AODA was likely to be amended to include fare parity for DARTS riders.]
For 2019, DARTS requires a budget increase of $4.3-million to meet increasing demand for rides.
The most recent update on DARTS costs, from a July 2018 meeting of the Accessible Transit Services Review Sub-Committee shows that DARTS is continuing to perform at a higher standard of service and lower cost per trip compared to previous years.
During that meeting in July, one of the discussion points was increasing use of DARTS by commercial nursing homes. A few homes are using DARTS for transportation instead of having their own shuttle vehicles as in the past. DARTS is required by AODA to provide service to the residents of nursing homes, and a companion if needed, at the same rate of no charge as the HSR.
In short, DARTS cannot cut its budget, it cannot refuse service, and it cannot charge fare when a similar trip on the HSR would be no charge to the passenger.
To fix the DARTS budget deficit, Council would have to end free HSR transit, and politically, that’s a non-starter.
Production Details v. 1.0.2 Last edited: February 12, 2019 Author: Joey Coleman Edit Record v. 1.0.0 original version v. 1.0.1 addition of production details box, and minor rewording of passengers. v. 1.0.2 closing paragraph added