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New Westminster seniors happy TaxiSaver temporarily saved from ax
TransLink has put on hold its plan to eliminate the TaxiSaver program after about 200 protestors, including residents of New Westminster's Thornebridge Gardens seniors complex, voiced their opposition at the transit authority's annual general meeting in Vancouver Wednesday morning.
In the wake of the complaints, the board decided to take a step back from its decision and consult with stakeholders.
In mid-May, TransLink announced it would stop selling the half-price taxi coupons to HandyCard holders in July, and would no longer honour them as of June 2013. The coupons allowed those eligible for HandyDart to use the coupons when they needed transportation on short notice or for times when HandyDart couldn't supply the service.
"I thought that's atrocious," said Thornebridge resident Betty Newton when she first read about the news. "I thought you're trying to save money off us seniors."
So Newton began organizing residents to oppose the cutback and got lots of support. TransLink expected to save $1.1 million per year over the next three years through the elimination of TaxiSaver. At the time, TransLink said it would spend $200,000 over the next year on supplementary taxi service, with the rest of the savings being reinvested into HandyDart service.
On Wednesday, Newton, along with fellow resident Alma Bjornson, hopped into a taxi to get to the meeting in Marpole and was one of those able to grab the microphone and let the board know her thoughts.
"They were very taken aback by the amount of people who showed up there in opposition to their program," said Newton after returning Wednesday afternoon. "They didn't expect the groundswell against their decision. They were criticized in several of the presentations with not consulting with users and user groups."
Newton said Tuesday that many of Thornebridge's residents rely on the coupons to get to medical appointments, especially when the doctor's office calls to say they have an opening because of a late cancellation.
"Of course the answer is 'yes,' [to the medical receptionist] but I don't have time to book the HandyDart so I'm going to use the TaxiSaver," said Newton. "There are a lot of people here that depend on this. People who have spouses in either George Derby [Hospital in Burnaby] or at a hospice that use taxis to go and visit."
Thornebridge is on Eighth Avenue at Sixth Street, and Newton said while many residents can walk to the Uptown shopping district at Sixth and Sixth, they can't walk back, especially if they're laden with shopping bags.
"There's a lot of people that use these in Thornebridge more than I do," she said.
Bjornson, who has lived in New Westminster for 40 years, uses the coupons at least once a week.
"I have several eye appointments these days," said Bjornson. "In the winter months it's more than worth it ... It's a very good arrangement, really. You save them for the very rainy days and nights."
Newton said HandyDart consumer advocacy manager Linda McGowan will speak to Thornebridge residents about the program on Tuesday, June 5 at 2 p.m.