Couillard gov’t cancels funds for medical transport of seniors
The Des Collines Seniors’ Roundtable is shocked at the decision of the Ministère des Transports to stop financing transportation provided by volunteers everywhere in the province of Quebec from 2018.
Volunteer community transportation services are not only an alternative to public transportation or taxi services where these services are not available, but are a personalized method of accompaniment for medical appointments. Volunteer drivers pick up clients at their homes, take them to their appointment(s), wait for the client, and drive them back home. Often drivers help their clients get into wheelchairs, and help them to find their way around the medical institution. This presence allows the volunteer to develop a bond of trust and helps create a social security net for isolated people.
In rural Outaouais, four organisations provide volunteer community transportation services: Transcollines, Transpor-Action Pontiac, le Guichet unique des transports collectif et adapté de la Vallée-de-la-Gatineau and the Corporation des Transports Adapté et Collectif de Papineau. In total, annually, 40,000 trips are made here.
Public transit and taxi services are extremely limited, non-existent in most MRCs of the Outaouais. Despite the public transportation in des Collines-de-l’Outaouais, transportation by volunteers remains essential to address specific needs.
In its most recent “programme d’aide au développement du transport collectif”, the Ministère des Transports writes that: “The year 2017 will be the last in which it will be allowed to use subsidies to cover a part of the travel expenses related to transportation provided by volunteers.” This decision will effectively close services in most of the affected organizations.
Carl Hager, volunteer for TransporAction Pontiac explains, “The clients of TransporAction Pontiac do not live on route 148. Often they live kilometres off this trunk line. Their needs can range from 6 am surgeries in Gatineau to late afternoon medical appointments. Most of our clients, being seniors, have mobility problems, difficulty with walking, and medical conditions in general. Making them get to and wait at a standardized bus stop (which don’t exist in our region!) is not practical. Because appointments occur at all hours of the day, a “regular” bus service would be inefficient and unprofitable.”
This decision is based on two misunderstandings. First, that there is unfair competition for taxi drivers when, in reality, with the low density of population here, taxi companies can’t be profitable. The proof of this is in the number of unclaimed taxi licenses. The second issue comes from a misunderstanding about what constitutes public transportation. For us, transportation by volunteers in their own cars is an alternative method to individuals driving themselves and, consequently, should be considered as public transportation. But they tell us that there’s an obligation to have fixed routes and schedules for “public transportation”. Large cities are considering changing their services to be more flexible. In rural areas with low population density, we need to be creative to reduce isolation in the communities.
Consequently, Des Collines Seniors’ Roundtable is asking the Ministère des Transports du Québec to reconsider its decision to stop funding this program, in order to take account of the rural and isolated context of its affected clientele which is particularly at-risk.
Director, Table autonome des aînés des Collines