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Squamish's handyDart service seeks more riders

Door-to-door bus service down 35% compared to March 2020 passenger numbers.
A handyDART in Squamish
A handyDART in Squamish at the Casino.
If you are mobility challenged but want to get out and about around town during the pandemic, consider using handyDart, says a transit supervisor.

Squamish has had handyDART services for about 15 years, but some folks still don't quite get what it is about, according to Jessica Lamarche, transit supervisor with Squamish Transit (PWTransit) which runs the service in town. 

The door-to-door service is for people "whose cognitive or physical disabilities prevent them from using fixed-route transit independently," BC Transit says.

Ridership is based on need and is not age-specific, according to BC Transit.

Lamarche said she often hears from clients who are surprised they can book it to go for lunch or any social visit. 

"I have had a lot of seniors say, 'I just stayed home and didn't do anything because I didn't think it was available to use to go to see my girlfriends for lunch or to go to Walmart or to go shopping,'" she said. 

If folks want to book regular trips, say to go swimming one day each week, they can do that too, she added. 

Pre-COVID, there were trips to the Sea to Sky Gondola and seniors' trips to Alice Lake and for picnics. 

"I still want to let people know that it is still available, obviously just not in a big group." 

COVID-19 protocols on the handyDART include only taking three clients per bus, as opposed to the 15 it can accommodate. 

The buses are sprayed with a strong but environmentally-friendly cleaner, and plastic separates the customers from the drivers. 

Mask wearing is mandatory onboard. 

Ridership has gone down 35% since March of 2020.

Lamarche worries that if folks don't use the service again, they could risk losing one of the buses. 

"If we don't keep it well-ridden, I am afraid that they will decrease it down to one driver a day, and then when things get busier, it won't be as [quick] to get that second bus implemented," she said, noting that the company works on yearly contracts with BC Transit. 

"If we can just keep it going, then that is probably the best option." 

The drivers like to be busy, she added. 

BCTransit issued The Chief a statement in response to Lamarche's concerns saying that: "There is no intention on the part of the provincial government, BC Transit or the District of Squamish to reduce handyDART service in Squamish."

"During the initial waves of the COVID pandemic, the District of Squamish maintained service levels on both the conventional and handyDART systems in light of decreases in ridership and revenue."

The local service started with one bus and now has three in town. 

Two drivers are on Monday to Friday from 6:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

The service requires 24-hour pre-booking. Tickets are $1.75 each way and can be picked up at Municipal Hall. 

Once referred by a medical professional, customers can call the handyDART line at 604-892-3567.


**Please note, this story has been corrected since it was first published. BCTransit says that ridership is down 35%, not the higher figure earlier quoted by the supervisor. We also added quotes from BC Transit and clearer information on who is eligible for handyDART.