BC FORUM News - From The Advocate, Autumn 2018
From buses to HandyDART, something needs to be done
In the wake of Greyhound’s decision to stop bus service in many areas, BC FORUM has called on the federal government to take action to close this “massive gap” in transit services.
“Many communities and especially retirees will be stranded,” said Diane Wood, President of BC FORUM.
“Those who rely on bus services as their sole means of transportation will be cut off from employment, education, family, health care and other critical public services.
“It’s also a grave risk to public safety. People will be forced to turn to less safe modes of transportation. You only have to look to the Highway of Tears to realize the horrific effects,” she said.
A resolution sent to the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada and the National Pensioners Federation conventions by BC FORUM calls on Ottawa “to ensure communities across Canada have access to basic transportation services and immediately act to develop a federal funding plan that will stop the cancellation of several crucial bus routes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northwestern Ontario and rural British Columbia.”
New services needed
Earlier this year, Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie recommended new programs and service improvements to meet the transportation challenges facing seniors.
Her report – Seniors Transportation: Affordable, Appropriate and Available – is the result of more than a year of consultation and research.
“At the age of 65 approximately 90 percent of BC seniors have a driver’s licence but this drops to approximately 44 percent by the age of 85,” said Mackenzie.
The report said public transportation services support some seniors some of the time, but none can fill all transportation needs for all seniors.
For example, many seniors may have the physical ability to take a bus or use HandyDART, but they have cognitive challenges that require someone to accompany them, or their physical frailty requires someone to assist them.
To fill this gap, Mackenzie recommended a new “Community Drives” program administered under the existing home support program.
Along with helping seniors get bathed, dressed and ensuring they take their medications, the program could easily schedule someone to take a senior to a medical appointment. Using the existing infrastructure of home support would allow the program to get up and running quickly and reduce duplication. A round trip on Translink’s HandyDART costs the province about $80, while an hour of home support can cost less than $38.
Mackenzie also called for other improvements:
• A provincial “Seniors Bus Buddies” program to support older seniors who may be trying to navigate the public bus system for the first time in 60 years.
• Expansion of HandyDART to more transit systems – it’s currently offered in 25 out of 31 – and an increase in night time and weekend routes, which are currently offered in only a quarter of the systems.
• Tax deductions for fuel and parking to recognize the contribution made by family and friends who drive seniors who are no longer able to drive themselves.
“The biggest thing we need to recognize is that transportation for frail seniors is a complex problem, and solving it will require many different solutions. But if everyone works together with a view of what is going to help seniors the most, we can make improvements,” said Mackenzie. Her full report is available at www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca.