Hamilton’s Public Works committee erupted with concerns last month when it was revealed that complaints about Hamilton’s Disabled Transit service, DARTS, had increased sharply in 2012 and that the agency had recorded a deficit of $50,000. At issue was the fact that in 2012 there were 1390 complaints about DARTS service against a benchmarked target of 360 complaints. Despite the fact that committee members were told that the bulk of the surge of complaints stemmed from the failure of a computer scheduling system and that since a new system was installed the complaints have tapered off; committee members were not appeased. The current system whereby DARTS schedules its own rides as opposed to the previous system where rides were scheduled at the HSR was described as “failing miserably” by Coun. Lloyd Ferguson.

Councillor Sam Merulla repeated his call for DARTS to be folded into the HSR. Statistics compiled by DARTS indicates the agency handles about 436,000 rides per year.. Add to that the roughly 100,000 calls to DARTS to arrange rides and you have approximately 540,000 interactions between customers and the agency, where the possibility of a complaint exists. That is 1500 customer interactions per day. Against that number of interactions the benchmark that was established for complaint levels is 340 per year or less than one complaint per day. Interestingly DARTS has outperformed other service benchmarks assigned to it—It’s on-time performance is running at 99.2 percent, against a target of 97.5 percent. Even with 2012’s spike in complaints, the agency is operating at of one complaint for every 313 rides.

The Bay Observer contacted DARTS General Manager Mark Mindorff to discuss the issues. He acknowledged the 2012 complaint levels and the deficit but says so far in 2013 things have improved. The agency is currently running a surplus of $97,000, trips are up over the previous year by 2,000 and complaints are tapering off. “Over half of our trips are seniors attending medical appointments. We can get them there on time, but often they are kept waiting at the hospital or doctor’s office, and that makes scheduling the ride back home problematic, and that can lead to complaints.” Compared to other large cities operating disabled transit systems Hamilton is performing well.

Statistics provided by the Canadian Urban Transit Association for 2010 show Hamilton performing better than Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal and Quebec City in complaints per ride. Despite the varying interpretations over service complaint levels, Mindorff, whose background is IT, welcomes complaint measuring systems. “It is important to analyze the customer complaints so we can come up with solutions.” City Manager Chris Murray has recently announced a program aimed at putting performance measurement systems in place across a broad range of city-delivered services, something Mindorff welcomes. “I would like to see us have the ability to measure performance in all city services so we can keep on improving.”

John Best has had a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

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