A Day In The Life of a HandyDART Driver [Story Time]

Day in the life of a HandyDart driver

So this was one of my own personal work days working as a HandyDART driver in the Lower Mainland. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the beautiful.

HandyDART is TransLink’s door-to-door, shared-ride service for people who are unable to navigate conventional public transit without assistance.


Day in the life of a HandyDart Driver
I’m all fresh and I got myself a coffee. What could go wrong?

I was kind of hoping that work wouldn’t call me in this morning, but at 6:45 am, they called and gave me the gift of a 10-hour long shift, and the first five hours actually went okay.

(I was working casually at the time, which means you can still work full-time hours, but each day they will call on short notice and offer you a shift, and you never know where you’ll be going or who you’ll be meeting. Every day is guaranteed to be 100% different.)

I had picked up a lady – let’s call her Rosemary – from a church. She was on her way home. I had to stop and pick up another gentleman called Rain. He was going to a senior’s center to play cards.

Handy Dart

When I arrived to pick up Rain, I was running very late. The dispatch has this wonderful plan for the day each day, but it’s more like a distant fairy tale than something that’s likely to actually happen. It turns into a jigsaw puzzle that no human being can figure out how to solve.

So by the time my day was getting going, I was already about an hour late to pick him up. On Sundays, the schedule is always packed and busy like this. There are fewer busses, and fewer drivers working, but just as many clients (it feels like).

I had basically two clients with the same pickup window (we use a 30-minute window for all clients) but who lived nowhere near each other.

I could have called and asked the dispatch if they could have sent a taxi for one of them, but lately, I just go with the flow.

Handy Dart

Dispatch has a computer to show if drivers are running late, and that is their job to create a schedule that works. My job is to follow the schedule and drive safely.

Rosemary had been extremely slow to walk from the church to the bus, which of course I had tried to park as close to the door as I possibly could, but we still had to walk to the parking lot.

It felt like it took her 30 minutes. And she, for some reason, couldn’t walk and talk at the same time. A lot of old people are like this. How does this happen? Are we all going to wake up old one day, unable to walk and talk at the same time?!

So, every time she decided to tell me something profound on our expedition to the bus, she stopped walking completely… and I watched the seconds and minutes ticking by on my watch while trying to appear patient. This was for sure contributing to my lateness.

Handy Dart
Handy Dart - The Day Begins
Handy Dart - The Day Begins

Rain’s wife was on the phone with my office when I arrived, I could see her standing on her patio, as if she’d been out there waiting for me the entire hour. She advised that if he would not be the first one to get dropped off, then he would be staying home, as he would miss his entire card game, and his friends were waiting for him.

Now there were only 20 minutes before he needed to be there. The problem was, the schedule had me dropping off Rosemary first, and these two people were going in completely opposite directions. Why? I have no idea. I’m just trying to do what I’m told.

I called the dispatch to request a change to the schedule. At first, they said, simply, “No. You need to follow your schedule.” It sort of matters because it means I would be closer or farther from the subsequent call.

But they came back to say moments later, “If it’s all right with the other client, you can rearrange the schedule and drop off Rain first.”

So I turned to Rosemary like any professional person following instructions would do and asked her, “Rosemary, is it all right if we drop off this other gentleman first? We are running late and he needs to be at the senior center soon.” She appeared to be pondering this question as if it were really important like she understood the gravity of it. But then, all of a sudden, I got my answer, plain and simple: “No!”

HandyDart Driver

Wow, that’s a lot of No’s in such a short period of time. “Ohh Why is this so difficult?” I screamed, mostly aimed at the sky. The sky didn’t answer.

I told Rain, “Get on the bus and let’s go.” I took him to the senior center. I don’t remember much detail from my boot camp training, but one thing I remember was one of the best trainers who I originally met, made the job seem relaxing and cool, and told me “You are the captain of your ship.”

It’s actually ME who gets to make this decision. That dispatcher has a nice, comfortable office, probably with lots of modern comforts, they don’t need to deal with clients, and I bet there is even coffee and donuts just sitting there in the middle of the table. And they can go to the washroom whenever they want. Therefore, I decided I’m going to do what I want since I’m the one who is actually out there.

On the way, Rosemary kept mumbling something about IKEA and asking when we were going to IKEA. I realized that she was most likely senile (for lack of a better word). I kind of surmised this earlier, but somehow didn’t want to admit it to myself because I already had too much to think about.

Handy Dart

She doesn’t know where we are, she doesn’t know where we’re going. All she can think about is IKEA, which is nowhere near her place, so, why does she care if we drop him off first? Does she even know her own name?

Besides that, what is she going to do when she gets home that she can’t wait to drop off the other passenger first? No offense and I am not judging what people do with their time, but I’m pretty sure she is just going to be staring at the wall.

I talked to Rain. I asked him what was new in life. Usually, we talk about FitBits, or he tells me about his iWatch. Changing with the times is cool. Or we talk about random stuff. He said he’s moving to Kelowna soon.

I dropped off Rain with seven minutes to spare before the big card game. He said, “I appreciate you,” and I continued on with my schedule.

Everything was kind of nice for a while and it seemed like I had caught up on my schedule (On the weekdays, other busses can help you if you get behind, but on the weekend, clients will wait for you until you get there, whatever the f%ck time that may be at) I could almost see the end of this really long day. I could see that there were five clients left. I thought, “I can handle this. Yes, Yes I can!” Fake it till you make it, as they say.

But so far this day, the clients had only been in groups of two or three. This group of five was all together, so the bus would be full. And once it’s full, you have to deal with whatever happens until it is once again empty. It’s not too daunting most days.

I had to go pick up Rain again to return him home. I was impressed that when I got there, I was actually 10 minutes early. He wasn’t around yet.

I had the luxury of a bathroom break without clients hounding me and trying to jump into the bus. I thought I might be able to go and check out the farmer’s market that is in the parking lot there, but it was totally gone by the time I got there. The hours are only 11-3 or something like that. Oh well.

I thought that I would be able to call my man or check my email or something like that, but when I got back to the bus, there was what appeared to be a 100-year-old woman standing right at the bi-fold doors of the bus, eagerly waiting for me. She had very lovely clothes and makeup.

“Can you help me? I can’t get the zipper on my purse open. It’s stuck. And that’s where I have my ticket.” (People don’t say “Hello” anymore?)

“Are you waiting for the bus ride to go home?” I asked her as I knew she wasn’t the right client for me; her name wasn’t on my list.

“Yes,” she said.

I told her, “Okay, I’m actually here to pick up another client; I only have one; I don’t think this is the right bus for you.”

She seemed 100% unconcerned about this pesky detail, and basically gave me her purse and disappeared, I think to the washroom. Her friend was also there beside me.

The lining of her purse had gotten jammed in the zipper. I could not get it undone. The sun was hot. There were a few benches right there so after several minutes of me fighting with this purse, I said to her friend, “I better get comfortable.”

I sunk myself deep into the bench and relaxed. I wrestled with the zipper. The older lady returned to check on my progress. I don’t know many people who would hand their purses to a total stranger and then walk away, but I was honored. “Today, I am the random stranger who will help this zipper.”

I hadn’t made much progress though. Finally, I got the stupid zipper undone and began to celebrate. Zippers have never been my special forte. I prefer snaps or velcro.

I handed it back to her. She immediately peered inside the pocket, almost as if for the very first time, with wonder and awe. But then, with a nonchalant disregard for the amount of effort that had just taken me, “Oh. The ticket isn’t even in there.” What? All that for nothing? Not to mention, she tells me she’s just been stung by a wasp. “And I’m allergic to them…”

“Oh no, are you going to be okay? Should I drive you to the hospital?” I asked her. She laughed and said “No, they just get swollen. I just have to put some ice on it later.”

I told her, “Go inside and get some ice.” Now seemed better to me. Especially because she was 100.

She said, “Oh, no one is there right now.” But I knew there was. I told her, “There’s a lady at the front desk, she’ll have a first aid kit.” She finally took my word and disappeared. She came back with a cute little ice pack.

She was beaming as if she were a little kid who had just been given a lollipop, or perhaps one of those free cookies that the grocery store or bakery gives to kids if they are cute enough and ask nicely. “The lady said I can keep it,” she grinned from ear to ear. “Omg, why are you so cute? I can’t even handle it.” I thought to myself.

Why hadn’t I just hidden in the bathroom and checked my e-mail? I wondered.

Rain appeared one nanosecond later, and we left. He seemed happy to see me. I asked how his cards went. He started talking about Bridge, but I didn’t get it. I told him I used to play Monopoly and Chess for hours with my brother.

He said that it had been so funny when I had screamed “Why!?” At Rosemary. He knows me, and I’m a pretty calm person, and I don’t often scream into the sky while on shift.

He said he would back me up if I got in trouble for rearranging the schedule. I told him the dispatch had rearranged it on my computer and everything was all good. We agreed that Rosemary was a little confused anyway.

When we got to his place, I told him I would miss him, since he was moving away. He didn’t say anything but gave me a hug (this was before COVID). Then he was gone. I had a nice break by the river. I had some of my water. The sun was making the water sparkle. This day almost seemed sweet, like it could turn out to have an easy ending. How could anything go wrong? I’m standing beside sparkly water, and I just untangled a zipper for no apparent reason. Things are good. Just need to complete my marathon.

I went to get the first out of five people. I put effort into driving in the smartest and most efficient way possible.

Everything was going fine until I got stuck waiting for the train in Port Coquitlam. I sat there for a while considering how long it would take to “go around”.  Either way, I am sitting here staring at a train, or spending extra time “going around.”

I waited a while and then I decided to “go around,” noticing that I was – again – not exactly on the early side of anyone’s window anymore. I guess it’s always a gamble and depends on whether you prefer to stay stopped or stay moving. Personal choice, really. These particular trains have a history of stopping and changing directions, and you can never tell how long it’s going to take.

This next client was waiting at her house for me. She was going to the Mosque. Her pick-up window was between 5:00 and 5:30 and I arrived at 5:13.

She immediately complained that I was late, even though I was perfectly inside the window. She started asking me how many more people we had to pick up, where they were, and where they were going because she needs to be at the Mosque at 6:00. On her booking, it showed no due time.

Noticed this sign while at work one morning…

This means that she did not specify a due time when creating the trip (or perhaps the scheduler forgot to add it in) and in any case, the scheduler can fill up the bus with other people, and I have a right to get there whenever I get there, since this is a shared-ride service, not a personal limo service.

She didn’t seem to understand, but somehow I knew it was not her very first trip. I mean, she’s immediately asking about other passengers, and where they are going, so she must somehow know that they’re a thing. I told her, “There are four others to pick up from the hospital. They were all going home from dialysis.”

She complained more as we were driving. “How long is this going to take? Can’t you drop me off first and then go and pick up the others?”

No, that would not work, as they had the exact same pickup window as her, which left me arriving at the hospital four and a half minutes before the end of their window time as it was.

Plus, she is going somewhere farther in the other direction from the hospital. Some of the hospital people are going to be dropped off before her. She would just have to deal with it and I would have to listen to her complain even more. She was so incredibly unthankful. She’s only paying $3.00 for this trip and doesn’t even appreciate anything about it.

I arrived there at the Royal Columbian Hospital. I went to get Tom first. He is a large boy with a very large walker. He uses the lift to get onto the bus, and he uses two seats when he sits.

For some reason, the scheduler doesn’t seem to understand that a person who needs to use the lift to get on and off the bus, can’t magically just walk past two other people who are sitting in the back of the bus in their wheelchairs. There’s literally nowhere to walk.

Yes, I could put that person on the bus first. But if he’s not planning on getting off last, then it’s not going to work. I’ve noticed that no one really wants to have a free tour of Vancouver for two hours if they’re not in the right mood.

They always seem to book it like that, and so the driver then has to call the dispatch and either has Tom, or the wheelchair people moved onto a different bus.

Unfortunately, this means that nine times out of ten, Tom ends up waiting longer than everyone else, and he doesn’t get a bus, he gets a Taxi (HandyDart has contracts with Taxi companies to help out when we are in a pinch and don’t have enough busses at any given moment). But clients seem to always prefer the bus over the Taxi.

He told me today that he had done some serious complaints with the help of his social worker. And I was pleased that today he was booked without the company of any wheelchairs. So I Invited him into the bus first, since he was always used to being last.

Handy Dart Driver

Next, I got Kate. She normally walks up the stairs onto the bus, but today, she could only do the first two stairs. Then she was suddenly stuck.

She was shaking, and her legs did not have the strength to get up to the next step. She looked like she was going to fall and crash into everything. She was tiny, so I did something I learned from my hospital job.

I threw her cane and bag that I had been carrying for her onto the floor and I grabbed the back of her pants. That’s what I saw the nurses do whenever they are helping someone to get up.

It worked, but I also had to move her leg up the final step and she looked as though she would pass out. But she said she was okay.

I worried about how I was going to get her off the bus and up the stairs to her apartment. I called dispatch and told them what had happened and I was worried. They said they would phone her home. They said that when I arrived, I could buzz and a family member would come out and help me.

I loaded another lady on the lift and she sat down. I went back to get another lady but she did not speak English and she was jabbering away in another language to a volunteer girl there.

By this time, I just wanted to get out of there so bad and was running out of patience, so I tried to grab her (she was in a temporary hospital wheelchair) to push her toward the bus.

I assumed she was chattering on about cupcakes or whatever, you know. The volunteer girl stopped me and said that the woman is very worried about the bus ticket.

She said she had had her ticket ready, but now she can’t find it. I told the girl, “Tell her not to worry about it for today.”

Technically I am supposed to advise the dispatch and they will mark her as a no-pay, and then she would be expected to pay twice next time to make up for it.

But sometimes I end up giving people a free ride when I simply forget to ask for their fare or they don’t remember to offer it. For some folks, you have to collect the ticket once you get to their home from a care worker. It’s pretty easy to forget.

I decided just to tell her not to worry, because that is much faster than writing down her customer number and phoning dispatch to tell them that she didn’t pay the $3.00.

She was very thankful and grabbed my hand to thank me. I just wanted to get out of there. There were a lot of things I cared about at that moment, but collecting $3.00 didn’t happen to be one of them.

There was one more person in a wheelchair waiting for the bus. She was whining and crying about if I am taking her as well. I agreed it looked sad to appear to leave one soul behind, but now my bus was full, and she wasn’t on the manifest.

I told her I would try to find out when her bus was coming, and I called the dispatch, but they were busy talking to other drivers, and I decided I had to leave. I had a full bus of tired, cranky, and hungry dialysis patients and I decided that I can’t save the world. That other client would need to take a hint and find her Zen moment while she waited for her bus.

This situation had given the others on the bus time to have a conversation. Tom was talking to the complaining lady about how the whole thing is supposed to work, and what to do next time she would like to get somewhere at a certain time. But she was still so rude.

As soon as I stepped into my driver’s seat: “Okay, let’s go. Hurry up, go fast.” She said.

“No, she is going to go the normal speed,” said Tom. Sweet, I didn’t even have to answer her. I was thrilled that he was there, actually. He’s defending me. That’s pretty awesome. I have dreaded him before because he actually has a really bad temper and can be quite terrifying when he is angry. One time, the security guards had to escort him onto the bus (not when I was driving it). I think he had been kicked out of the hospital that particular day.

Since the rude person had just told me to go faster, I decided it was a good time to stop for a moment, and take a big drink out of my water bottle before driving away. This was getting totally stressful and I needed water. Then we left.

“Yay, it’s a long weekend, and tomorrow is a holiday!” I said randomly, trying to lighten the mood or something like that.

“Do you have the day off?” asked Tom.

“Yes, I do.” I said

“Are you going to Wreck Beach?” (A nude beach in Vancouver).Opens in a new tab.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Let me know what time, and I’ll come too.” He said

I tried not to laugh but I couldn’t.

I got to Kate’s place and buzzed. Her daughter came downstairs with a transfer wheelchair. She seemed annoyed. I took the wheelchair into the bus and had the tired, weak patient sit down. But she could hardly stand up. Her daughter came to see what was going on. “Did you not eat anything today?” She got no answer.

I got her outside but there were still three steps or so to get to her apartment. It was a struggle, and I thought she was going to collapse at any second. But she made it and the daughter thanked me. I thanked her too. The daughter said again, “Did you not eat anything today, mom?”

“No,” was the simple answer. The lady was so small and so frail. She was so cute too. I just wish she would have eaten her lunch.

“How much longer now?” The complaining lady again was driving me crazy. I told her, “I can’t talk to you anymore. Call the office and you can discuss it with them.”

She was quiet after that. She was next to get dropped off anyway. I still had two more people to bring home. One was going to Boundary and Kingsway and the other to Boundary and Hastings. By the time I finally got to Boundary and Hastings, we were so, so, so, late, well past the time my shift was supposed to be done.

All that stuff with Kate and the rest of the entire day just took quite a while. The next client’s family was on the porch waiting. “You’re early.” They said sarcastically. Yay, just what I need right now, some sarcasm. I know, I know what they’re thinking, “The bus is always late.” That’s it.

“That’s like a really bad joke, isn’t it?” I said. They nodded and I told them I had had some issues. My main issue was this ridiculous 10-hour-long shift and basically needing to clone myself twice to get it all done. They didn’t bug me about it. Maybe because I had that look like if they say anything even remotely rude, I might just spaz. And that might disturb the whole neighborhood.

I hadn’t noticed that the gas tank was now completely empty. I tried to fill it, but the new gas card didn’t work. I quickly gave up and drove back to the yard, leaving the bus empty for the next person. Oh well, I tried. At least I showed up. That has to count for something.

Conclusion

What I would like to say to clients: please be patient, drivers really are doing our best, even though it may not seem like it. Drivers have to do what they are told, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense or be efficient at the time.

What I would like to say to other drivers: please be patient! This can be a hard and stressful job, and we are dealing with frail, elderly, weak, confused, and special-needs clients.

It’s frustrating when cars that were behind us go around, cut in front of us, and then stop or slam on the brakes. Just because you can’t see what’s going on in the road in front of us because we are driving a larger vehicle, doesn’t mean there’s something exciting to see, and it doesn’t mean that we are driving slower than the rest of the traffic. If you leave a bit more space between the vehicles, you’ll be able to see better.

We have been trained above and beyond the basic Class 4 ICBC training, which goes above and beyond the basic Class 5 training. Handy Dart drivers also go for refresher training classes in the classroom and in the vehicle, at least once per year. We are hyper-aware of our surroundings and about how we are driving, and that we are driving safely. We know our vehicle is large, and we know other drivers hate being behind us because they can not see stuff.

Please give space and don’t cut in front, because cars cut in front all day every day and it can take the joy out of driving after a while. Sometimes we are carrying passengers who have just come from chemotherapy or have a broken leg. It’s not ideal to have to slam on our brakes or stop rather more suddenly than we had planned.

Handy Darts also have this thing called a Mobile Eye. I hate it with a passion because all it does is takes the joy out of driving. It beeps loudly whenever we are driving too closely to the vehicle in front, it warns if we are leaving our lane, and if there’s a pedestrian anywhere around our vehicle, it will make the loudest noise I’ve ever heard in my life, giving free heart attacks to whoever hears it. It’s insulting to be honest.

One day, my Mobile Eye was actually malfunctioning, and it was “seeing” cars that weren’t there. It kept beeping at me all day, super loudly, even though there was no one around my vehicle. It even did it in quiet, residential areas where I was the only soul to be seen. I actually went home with a huge headache. And when I spoke to my manager at the time, crying to her about my supreme headache and stress, the first thing she said was, “Yeah, well, a child just died in Squamish because a car turned left and didn’t see the pedestrians. These save lives.” Um… WTF?

However, what mostly happens is the Handy Dart driver is driving perfectly fine, but the cars in front will cut into the lane too soon, making the Mobile Eye think that the bus driver is “following too closely” and the “Beep” sound go off, even though the Handy Dart driver was merely minding their business.

Please give extra space before changing lanes so we don’t have to get a headache from that thing going off. It’s a lot of beeping in a 10-hour-shift, but even on a regular shift. Please wait until you can see the entire vehicle and the tires touching the pavement in your rear-view mirror, before changing lanes in front of it.

Thanks a million!

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Carmen

Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada and is an experienced writer, blogger, photographer, artist, philosopher, certified day dreamer and generally complicated human.

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