HandyDART Riders' Alliance: Vancouver's paratransit riders get organized

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Craig Langston and Tim Louis about the HandyDART Riders' Alliance, a two-year-old organization that is mobilizing the riders of Vancouver's paratransit service in the face of declining service levels that are leaving more and more people stuck in their homes.

If a government in North America were to suddenly start doing things that forced some random cross-section of the general population to be confined to their homes part of the time, there would likely be a vigorous popular response. Or at least I hope there would be. Yet in many places on this continent, a governmental refusal to provide appropriate infrastructure and services is currently doing exactly that -- and, in this age of the elite valorization of austerity and consequent budget cuts, in at least some places such infrastructure is becoming less and less adequate, and more and more people are being confined to their homes more and more of the time.

I'm talking, of course, about people with disabilities, particularly those who require a specialized transit service to be able to get around their communities. (And, by the way, I want to parenthetically note that I do recognize that different political strands within disability justice organizing use different naming conventions -- I'm following the lead of the group at the centre of today's episode in using the language of "people with disabilities.") In the Metro Vancouver area, the relevant transit system is called HandyDART. In recent years, total HandyDART service was, according to a 2013 report, cut by 15,000 hours and then frozen. Yet demand has not decreased, and in fact continues to increase as the population of the Metro Vancouver area both grows and ages. According to the HandDART Riders' Alliance, the number of trip denials -- people who attempt to book a trip on the system but are told there is no capacity for them to do so in a given instance -- has increased by more than 600 per cent in a relatively few years. It was this phenomenon that led to the founding of the Riders' Alliance.

Craig Langston and Tim Louis are both long-time disability activists in British Columbia and are on the steering committee of the HandyDART Riders' Alliance. To combat what Louis has described as "the virtual house arrest the service freeze has created," the Alliance has been organizing users, lobbying politicians and staff, and holding regular public forums in different communities that HandyDART serves, and they are set to support an upcoming transit funding referendum that, if it passes, would not completely solve the problem but would certainly be a move in the right direction. They speak with me about the origins of the group, their activities so far to organize HandyDART riders and allies, and their vision for a liveable Vancouver.

To learn more about the HandyDART Riders' Alliance, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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