CUPE members throw support behind CSC paratransit funding request

A Community Service Centre (CSC) paratransit bus sits outside their office on Second Avenue East in Prince Albert. -- Herald file photo.

CUPE members have thrown their support behind a Prince Albert and District Community Service Centre (CSC) campaign for increased municipal funding.

Members of CUPE 2182 spoke out about the lack of funding on Thursday, calling on the City of Prince Albert to recognize how critical CSC paratransit services are, and provide the necessary funding to make sure it continues.

The CSC is seeking an additional $103,521 in funding. Without it, the organization says it will have to cut an estimated 4,137 evening and weekend paratransit rides.

“These cuts will impact the lives of those CSC serves,” CUPE 2182 president Mark Krayetski said. “Evening services and weekend transportation services play a crucial role in enabling seniors and individuals with disabilities to participate in various aspects of community life, such as sporting events, entertainment activities, social gatherings, and shopping.”

In 2023, the CSC provided 37,145 riders to paratransit users, an increase of 11,405 rides from the year before.

However, the organization faces rising costs for gas and fleet maintenance, which can’t be covered without an increase. The organization says it has not received a funding increase since 2021.

CUPE Saskatchewan president Judy Henley said cutting evening and weekend rides would undermine the City’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility.

“A hundred thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket for a City Council that approved an extra $700,000 for the architectural design of a new arena,” Henley said in a press release. “Budgets are about choices, and the City of Prince Albert is choosing to make the city less accessible for seniors and people with disabilities.”

In December, the CSC announced it would cut services on April 1 if it did not receive additional funding.

Mayor Greg Dionne said the CSC already has enough funding to cover the costs. Dionne said budget documentation provided to the City on Jan. 25 shows a 2023 reserve of more than $35,000, which shows Access Transit operated $37,000 under budget for fuel.

“The decision to reduce evening and weekend hours is not the City’s,” Dionne said. “The CSC is choosing to reduce hours. We don’t believe that these services cuts are necessary, and it’s concerning to me that they are choosing to go this route.”

According to the City, Access Transit and seniors transportation received $1.06 million in municipal funds in 2023. That total includes $180,400 to purchase a new paratransit bus.

The potential for service cuts has many riders distressed about possibly losing touch with the community. Terry Fjeld, a Prince Albert private care home operator who houses four residents, says it’s not feasible for her to drive all four around town. They all rely on paratransit services to get out on evenings and weekend.

“They’re all on very low fixed incomes,” Fjeld explained. “It would be very limiting to their ability to get out into the community and do some of those activities. It’s a social thing, and it is lots of fun.

“People say, ‘well, why don’t you give them a ride? I try, but there are other individuals and I can’t be in four places at one time,” she added. “It makes it very limited and if someone refuses to leave the house, I have to respect their wishes and I can’t take them so this service has just been so welcome. (It’s) allowed … my guys to go out into the community more than if the service wasn’t here.”