On Wednesday, March 30, a number of HandyDART users spoke to the TransLink board at their monthly meeting in New Westminster. Together with HandyDART drivers, we were lobbying TransLink to bring HandyDART service in-house.
Whereas conventional public transit is operated by TransLink through a number of wholly owned subsidiaries — Coast Mountain Bus Company operates the Seabus and almost all of the region’s buses; British Columbia Rapid Transit Company operates two of the three SkyTrain lines and the West Coast Express — when it comes to HandyDART, TransLink does something quite different. It puts the service out to tender.
Way back in the early 1980s when a number of us were lobbying the then Urban Transit Authority for a HandyDART service, we urged that this service be operated in-house. We convinced the UTA to create HandyDART but we were unsuccessful in arguing that it should be operated by the transit authority as a wholly owned subsidiary like all the other transit services.
In my presentation to TransLink board (you can watch a video of it here), I pointed out that the current operator, MV Transportation, is receiving approximately $70 million a year to operate HandyDART. If they are making a profit of even 5%, then $3.5 million a year is leaving the region and ending up in Dallas, Texas, where MVT is based. If TransLink could operate HandyDART at the same operating cost that MVT does then — at no cost to taxpayers — $3.5 million a year, hypothetically, would be available to raise service levels.
As one of the two co-chairs of the HandyDART Riders’ Alliance (HRA), I asked the TransLink board to consider conducting a public sector comparator. This is a process in which government hires someone with expertise to determine what is the best “bang for the buck” delivery model for a particular service — contracting in or contracting out.
I also suggested that even if the public sector comparator indicates that TransLink would get more bang for its buck bringing HandyDART into the TransLink family, it should still proceed with its planned request for proposals for HandyDART, but with a twist. TransLink would create a wholly owned HandyDART subsidiary, which would submit a bid to the procurement department along with any interested private sector companies. (I also requested that the RFP include meaningful input from HandyDART workers and users.) Only if the bid from the wholly owned subsidiary was chosen on its merit would HandyDART finally come in-house.
If we keep our fingers crossed and TransLink proceeds with the HRA’s creative proposal, we can look forward to a much better HandyDART with higher service levels, all at no cost to the taxpayer — a perfect win-win.