Hamilton’s Disabled and Aged Regional Transit System (DARTS) has spent the best part of the last decade being poked and prodded by various consultants engaged by the City to find out what is wrong with the system. This, despite the fact that a recent survey by Forum Research suggests there may not be much wrong at all; as 90 percent of the customers surveyed said they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the service overall. Still there is a push on to have the administration of DARTS, which operates as an arms-length service provider, taken in-house and to tender out the contract to drive the vehicles.
Forum Research talked to about 400 DARTS users and several of the agencies that rely on DARTS to transport their clients to examine ways to improve DARTS. The margin of error was +/-5, at the 95% confidence level. Lengthier interviews were conducted with the agencies.
The majority of respondents (68%) said they receive “very good value” for the service. Said Forum, “the users were aware that the level of service they receive is impressive given the amount that they pay. Whether or not they are aware of the actual cost of a daily trip, they are able to recognize that the cost to the consumer is more than fair. Darts charges $2.75 for a trip whose actual cost could be $20.00 or more when all costs of operating DARTS are factored in. When asked about their overall satisfaction with services offered by DARTS, the majority of respondents (90%) said they were either satisfied or very satisfied (39% and 51%, respectively) with services overall. Only 1 in 10 respondents said they are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied (8% and 2%, respectively). Respondents who said they were dissatisfied attributed this to service booking issues, pick up times, and issues with drivers. In one of the previous surveys into DARTS it was shown that the Hamilton system fared well when compared to disabled transit systems in other communities; both from a cost per ride perspective and in terms of the quality of the service.
If the driver component of the service were to be put to tender it is a certainty that local taxi operators would likely be interested. This, even though a portion of the DARTS service is currently handled by taxi operators, and it is the contracted taxi service that has attracted the most DARTS customer complaints. The most common complaint with the taxi drivers is that they lack the training needed to look after passengers with special needs, some of whom may be suffering from dementia. A user provided this narrative, “ The taxi cabs are the worst. They are awful. They have no training…one even left a passenger with dementia outside in the winter for over 40 minutes.” The industry carries some influence with certain members of council, and provides financial support to political campaigns.
The report indicated that some of the complaints about service are the fault of other users of DARTS—passengers who are chronic no-shows—sometimes several times a month; or others who cancel rides at the last minute, thus backing up the entire system. DARTS has developed the use of electronic tools –rides can be booked online, and users can even track the status of their ride—but many DARTS customers are unwilling, or owing to age and health issues unable to access the available online tools. The biggest complaint from the minority who expressed complaints is the amount of time spent on hold trying to book a ride by phone.
Meanwhile city council is expected to make a decision about the future of DARTS in the new year.