By ALEC MCPHERSON
On March 21, 2012, I attended a forum on ageing hosted by Jean Crowder, MP, Doug Routley, MLA and Leonard Krog, MLA. A number of panellists from various aid groups within the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) provided input on issues, concerns and plans affecting seniors. A member of the audience stated emphatically that the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) was set to limit the BC Transit /RDN handyDART service to those people within 1.5 kilometres of a conventional (fixed schedule) transit route. A number of attendees provided audible gasps at this news. As a newly appointed member of the Transit Select Committee (TSC), I felt that it was appropriate to correct this individual’s assertion that a decision had been made.
At the TSC meeting, it was MOVED, Seconded and Carried “that staff prepare a report that analyzes the service and financial impacts of the Custom Service Area Proposal from BC Transit.” It was apparent that, if adopted, any adverse impact would be borne by the residents of the Electoral Areas – most notably in each of Area ‘H’, Area ‘F’, Area ‘C’ and Area ‘A’. On Thursday, July 19th, the Transit Select Committee received the staff generated report. My view on the BC Transit proposal is that it is one of cost containment with little, if any, consideration of the hardship that will be placed on a most vulnerable segment of our society. It was clear that in putting this proposal forward, BC Transit was attempting to preserve an artificial efficiency level – each of the handyDART units in service handling 4 clients per hour. While all RDN residents pay for the service through their taxes, if one lived in a rural, unincorporated area, one would not have equal access to the service under the BC Transit proposal. Another unsettling feature of this proposal was that it was for “future” cost containment as there was an admission that they were currently able to meet the artificial efficiency of handling 4 clients per hour. In order to minimize any immediate effect on the rural residents, a concession was made to ‘grandfather’ those who were already registered in the system. The recommendation from staff was, “That the Board advise BC Transit of their support for the Custom Transit Service Area Proposal with the amendments that Custom transit should also be made available to customers meeting the criteria, within 1.5 kilometres of Rural Village Centres, as identified in the RDN Regional Growth Strategy.” With the exception of two electoral area Directors voting against the motion, the balance of the attendees supported the motion. The financial impacts of providing or denying service were not presented; however, it is known that the provincial government via BC Transit pays two thirds of the costs. The direct cost to the RDN appears to be in the neighbourhood of $5 per client served.
This matter is expected to be placed on the RDN Board agenda for consideration on Tuesday, August 28th 2012. I understand that some effort is now being made to try and provide an amended motion that will limit the adverse effects to residents within the rural areas.
One can read about the handyDART service by going to the RDN website, www.rdn.ca and selecting Regional Transit below the SERVICE heading. In short, handyDART is door-to-door service for people with special needs. The service is supposed to enable the elderly and persons with disabilities to have access to health care, employment, education, shopping and recreation. For many of the people who utilize the service, it allows them to maintain their dignity and become fully contributing members of our society.