Going Places: Rural Transit?

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By Jim Bertram

A few weeks ago, I read some interesting articles on the general subject of care for seniors as they grow older. One of the oft-mentioned points in the articles was the question: Is it better to deliver care services to people in a hospital setting or is it better to deliver care in the home environment?

The conclusion reached in the various articles was essentially that the preferred place of delivery over a variety of criteria was service delivery in a home environment. This is a conclusion which I have encountered widely in my reading. It is apparently based on criteria such as cost of service comparisons as well as expressions of preference by people in the appropriate age group who have been surveyed.

This preference seems to be a factor in the ongoing development of provincial policy in terms of service delivery. Yet, while this seems to be the case, complementary areas of policy seem to be lagging in the sort of development which would help to turn delivery of health services of seniors in their own home into a reality.

This is particularly true for those who live in a rural environment, as is the case for approximately 80% of North Grenville residents. As our older residents grow older, it will be more difficult for them to remain in their homes. The realities of relatively fixed incomes, declining physical abilities, rising costs of living (hydro rates anyone? Carbon Taxes?), transportation to grocery stores and transportation to medical appointments are part of life for seniors who wish to stay in their own homes as they grow older. In the rural area, transportation is certainly a particular challenge for most seniors, especially those with lower income resources. While, as stated, the apparently accepted wisdom is that it would be desirable for seniors to stay in their homes for as long as is practicable, transportation is a significant stumbling block which threatens to trip us up on the way to being able to attain this objective.

Therefore, if we, for the sake of argument, accept the desirability of helping seniors remain in their homes, we have some significant challenges before us in ensuring the possibility that this may happen. In an area like North Grenville, with a large and growing senior population over a far-flung geographical area, the resolution of the problem is made more difficult by the dispersed nature of our population and relatively small economy. And the problem will only become more difficult over time, as our seniors become a proportionately larger element of our population.

Of course, identifying the problem and its growing importance in our area is a necessary first step in advancing toward a solution. What resources may be brought to bear as part of a solution? Is there a way of organising transportation services in our area to meet projected growing demand for transportation services in our more lightly populated rural area? What level of demand and price would be enough to sustain a private solution to the problem? What public resources may be brought to bear, perhaps in partnership with private enterprise to meet demand for transport in rural areas? Besides seniors, are there other client groups who may require service in the rural area, groups which could make service delivery more economically feasible?

The questions on this topic are numerous and reflect a real and growing concern. Over the next several weeks, I anticipate further discussion in these pages of the issue of rural transport, with a view to deepening and enriching the discussion of this subject. Further development of the questions I raise, and others, as well as possible solutions, will be presented for consideration. I look forward to any ideas which may be presented on this subject.

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