Hamilton residents who use DARTS will be asked to update their eligibility status periodically, under a plan presented by transit staff. There will also be a points system in place to discourage late cancellation of appointments and no-shows which result in service delays to other users. The staff report explains, “It is important to manage Trip No Shows, Late Cancellations and Excessive Cancellations so that ATS can effectively maximize the greatest number of possible trips available to customers of the service. The policy is not designed to be detrimental to those who have an urgent matter arise that prevents travel at the scheduled time but is in place for habitual infractions.”
Hamilton’s experience with misuse of the system was four times worse than other agencies surveyed. Dillon Consulting who were engaged to make recommendations looked at ten transit agencies and found the number of late cancellations and no shows of 4.78 percent compared to the 2019 Hamilton rate of 16.54 percent. The report noted that Hamilton has more than 20,000 persons registered to use the disabled transit service, but has lost touch with just over half of them, hence the need for re-registering everybody. Once all are re-registered, the new plan calls for periodic updating of client information.
As with other transit systems, COVID took its toll on DARTS usage. There were 940,000 trips taken in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic hit. In 2020 and 2021, the ridership fell to 371,000 and 327,000 respectively. In 2022 ridership is forecast to reach 459,000 and the forecast for 2023 is 611,000—far below 2019 numbers. The report assumes that ridership will never fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people have found other means to travel, rely more on virtual communication and/or appointments, and/or use of online shopping and services.