Hamilton City council has given the board of Hamilton’s Disabled and Aged Regional Transportation System (DARTS) an ultimatum—either find $1Million in savings by the end of 2016 or we will take over the system. A staff report says there are too many people riding around in half-empty DARTS buses who could be accommodated in smaller, cheaper vans or a new generation of SUV type vehicles. A typical DARTS bus ride costs about $30 compared to $16 for a van or SVU. According to the staff report almost half of DARTS users are fully ambulatory requiring no wheelchair at all. Another quarter of users can get around with a walker. The staff plan would see many of these users transferred to vans and smaller vehicles which would yield the targeted saving of $1 Million.
The staff report suggests that taking the service in house from DARTS would effectively end the agreement between DARTs and CUPE who now represent DARTS employees. The agreement now in place is between CUPE and DARTS, not the city; and if DARTS were out of business, the contract would be void. This would give the city more flexibility in outsourcing the business to the local taxicab industry where drivers receive a little under $5 per DARTS customer carried. Currently the DARTS agreement with CUPE stipulates that no more than 10 percent of passenger trips can be outsourced. Addressing that issue the staff report says, “Transferring reservations, scheduling and dispatch to the City would ensure efficiencies…as the City would be unencumbered by contractual limitations on trip allocation.”