Paratransit has waiting list, council hears in budget talks

Prince Albert Community Service Centre CEO Bill Powalinsky. (Herald file photo)

An extra $35,000 could eliminate the 21 person wait list currently on the books for city paratransit services, council heard as community groups began submitting their budget proposals on Monday.

Bill Powalinsky, CEO of the Community Service Centre, told council that a small amount of extra money, along with the service getting creative in how it schedules riders, would allow them to keep their existing service levels and eliminate the waiting list.

“There’s no argument. Over the last two years it’s been tough for everyone,” said Powalinsky during the external agencies presentation to council on Nov. 1.

Operating costs have increased but the group was able to save money during the pandemic because services were reduced.

“We still maintained the evening service and weekday services because of the need for our people to get to their dialysis and engage medical appointments,” Powalinsky said. “We did cut back on evenings and weekends.”

They have had no budget increases for two years but say that in order to maintain the current level of service, they need $586,123.

“It’s a tough reality that if we don’t get the budget allocation, we’ll have to cut back services somewhere,” he said.

They are now back to the same service hours as they were before the pandemic but the waiting list has been a stagnant issue for some time. 

“We have 21 people waiting for services and our waiting lists don’t move very much unless people die or move away,” Powalinsky said.

His presentation also reminded council that the City receives $169,354 from the province under the Transportation Program for Persons with Disabilities to help pay for operating costs. This funding is calculated based on passenger counts.

Doing something about the waiting list has been a recognized issue since 2016 and has been a strategic priority in the subsequent five years.

“The one solution we have – and we’re willing to look at other solutions – was a split shift system,” he said. “We would be willing to collaborate and co-operate in that and look for a win/win.”

They have also considered taxi vouchers but think that using a split shift for drivers would be the most cost-effective solution.

“We’re willing to look at anything to get people on the waiting list wherever they need to be,” Powalinsky said.

The group is not looking at any changes to senior’s transportation and had no additional requests for that part of their service.

Any increases in that area will be dealt with by fund-raising efforts by the agency.

Powalinsky has become a recent user of the transit service, as he has an injured leg and arrived at the council meeting in a wheelchair.

He said he can personally attest to the challenges of capacity and workload and that the service is not always able to get users where they need to go when they need to go.

For him to find alternative transportation was $40 over the $5 charged by paratransit.

“It’s cost-prohibitive for people if they don’t have access to para-transit service,” he said. “Most of our passengers are on a fixed income.”

They are also still working on a multi-year agreement with the city that would see paratransit move under the umbrella of the transportation department.

Council will consider the group’s request as part of its upcoming budget deliberations.