How would you like to run a business where the costs are out of your control? That is the situation faced every year by DARTS which provides transit services to seniors and disabled people. The province sets the standards that determine who is eligible for the service leaving local providers unable to accurately forecast their cash requirement nor to restrict service in order to meet budgets. In November 2019, the Public Works Committee requested the City Auditor complete the ATS eligibility audit to assess eligibility processes and identify opportunities for improvement and cost containment.
City Auditor Charles Brown shared the findings from the Accessible Transportation Services (ATS) eligibility audit with the Public Works Committee.
The OCA has brought forward observations, findings and 14 recommendations to increase process efficiencies, strengthen controls and explore opportunities for cost savings, in order to ensure eligible residents who need accessible transportation services receive it in a fair and equitable manner.
The audit findings include that:
• The eligibility process drives demand and costs.
• There is a critical need to have quality assurance embedded throughout the eligibility assessment process.
• The eligibility assessment process requires improvement and potential redesign.
• Benchmarking to other municipalities suggests routine reassessment, exploration of service options.
Transit and ATS have agreed with all 14 recommendations and have an opportunity to undertake transformative change in this area.
ATS at a glance (2019):
• 17,000 registered ATS Clients
o About 9,000 active clients who take one or more trips per year
• 844,007 passenger trips completed by the Disabled and Aged Regional Transportation System (DARTS)
o City cost $26.71 per trip
• 2019 ATS actual net operating cost was $22.5 M
o This includes DARTS, taxi scripts, and travel training
Overview of ATS (2019):
• 3,515 applications received and accessed by ATS
• 34 third party functional assessments performed
o City cost $125 per assessment
• 1 eligibility decision appeal received
• $38 to assess an application in-house, plus additional costs of $144 if an applicant undergoes a functional assessment
• 94 average number of trips taken by active clients
• 26,314 Taxi Scrip booklets sold
o City cost $16 per booklet
• 47 Travel Training recruits
o City cost $175 K
“Findings from this audit show the importance of a robust eligibility assessment process to ensure fair and equitable access to transit.” Charles Brown, City Auditor & Auditor General, Office of the City Auditor.
DARTS has been subjected to more operational reviews over the years than virtually any other city department, but so far nobody has been able to come up with solutions to the fundamental issue of lack of control and predictability over its activity levels.