The Rural Handi-van meeting is a major deliverable for Transportation Options Network for Seniors (TONS) and its’ Rural Committee. The May 13, 2013 meeting was a follow-up to a meeting held in 2010 which 32 rural Handi-van services attended. The Rural Handi-van services presently do not have a mechanism to connect with other services to communicate and share common issues. The meetings that TONS have held assist Rural Handi-van services by providing opportunities to meet and communicate with other Handi-van services while gaining relevant knowledge. There are now 69 rural Handi-van services in Manitoba.
1. MEETING OBJECTIVES
- The items that were outstanding from 2010 included:
- encouraging greater municipal support for existing Handi-van services
- encouraging municipalities and towns without services to consider developing and financially supporting rural Handi-van programs
- encouraging greater participation in joint or regional projects
- ensuring transportation is linked to age-friendly communities
- establishing a means to communicate so that Rural Handi-vans can share best practises and discuss solutions to common concerns
- the viability of some Handi-van operations and the desire to offer charter services to ensure viability
- establishing an Association to assist the rural Handi-van programs that wish to have a forum for information sharing and discussion and lobby for an increase in the annual grant and greater flexibility in the transportation rules and regulations to ensure the viability of the programs.
In December 2012 a new survey was conducted to determine if these concerns were still relevant. The response rate for this survey was fairly good with 47 out of 68 services (a new service was added just prior to the May meeting) responding (69% response rate). The concerns identified in 2010 were still relevant.
Based on the feedback received, the Meeting Objectives were finalized as:
- Sharing and exploring ideas, information, resources and best practices
- Fees charged, driver rates, paying wages or honorariums, affordability
- Best vehicles for rider comfort and adaptations, improving usage, licensing practises;
- How to operate i.e. tracking calls and booking rides, bookkeeping, written procedures i.e. driver handbook, etc.
- Fundraising initiatives
- Identifying opportunities and next steps for the development of links between programs and communities
- Identify and explore collaboration and coordination opportunities
- Jointly seek solutions to reduce program costs and increase funding and ridership i.e. a regional approach
- Consider developing an Association
- Consider the role of Handi-van services in encouraging and supporting seniors to age in place thereby supporting Manitoba’s rural communities.
See attached -Rural Handi-van Meeting Agenda – Appendix A
Ninety (90) people registered to attend the Rural Handi-van meeting that was held in Portage la Prairie on Monday, May 13, 2013. There were eight cancellations and 11 no shows. (We received information that many were seeding their crops and one person sent regrets due to court duty). In total 71 registrants attended. They represented 35 of the 68 invited Rural Handi-van services (51%). Four services that had registered did not send any representatives. Of those that did not register 15 represent towns and 9 of those towns are a fair size with one ranking as one of the fastest growing communities in Canada. The remaining 18 are small R.M.s and villages.
The registrants often represented more than one category (“wearing two or more hats”) but primarily were representatives of the Handi-van boards (64% of registrants), their municipal government (35%) and (20%) were Handi-van program coordinators. Drivers (12%) and Senior Serving Agencies (7%) were also represented.
B. Meeting Evaluation
The meeting generally received positive reviews. Fifty one of the seventy one attendees or 72% completed the evaluation form. The majority indicated 4 out of 5 for overall satisfaction with the Rural Handi-van meeting. A few people commented that they wished for more time to talk about operational practises. The luncheon and refreshments received very positively reviews.
Based on the evaluations, the two favorite speakers were:
- Gina Sylvestre – offered an overview of aging in rural Manitoba, barriers of rurality for the provision of transportation, their MDTP operations and observations that might be inferred.
- Brendan Reimer – provided an overview of not for profit service cost calculation, long term sustainability and a “friend” raising approach as opposed to fund raising.
See attached – Table of the Evaluation Comments – Appendix B
C. Service Challenges Identified by the Participants
Although there are several concerns the rural Handi-van services are struggling with, the most frequently expressed issue was finding and keeping qualified drivers. Some services only recruit volunteer drivers which can compound the problem. It has been strongly recommended that the rural Handi-van drivers have CPR training, or the municipality and Handi-van Board risk potential legal liability if a medical emergency occurs. This could make attracting drivers even more difficult and potentially increase operating costs.
The following is a list summarizing the concerns expressed:
- Finding and keeping qualified drivers (proper license)
- Need for greater participation and support by the endorsing municipalities in terms of both financial and board support
- The current MDTP guidelines for service provision, which limit how and to whom services can be provided i.e. medical needs take precedence, can have a detrimental impact on ridership as clients learn that they cannot trust that a planned outing will in fact occur.
- On any given day many municipalities may be descending on major centres i.e. Brandon and Winnipeg delivering client to medical appointments. A regional approach to service could be explored to see if it might be more efficient and reduce overall costs.
- With no increase in the annual MDTP core grant since its inception, cost increases are being offset by service users. The cost can be prohibitive to ridership with a fixed income.
- Need to increase ridership while not impacting private enterprise services (where they exist)
- Need for public education on service costs
- Need for safety conscious service provision i.e. CPR training for all drivers
- Many services have not developed operating guidelines, or training manuals
- Lack of information regarding best practices and little contact between Handi-van services to share information.
D. FORMING AN ASSOCIATION
Mike Tutthill led the discussion on the concept of forming an Association (this was a topic “left on the table” from the 2010 meeting) and it was clear that there was little support for the idea. With the group Mike reviewed the benefits of being in an Association, including unity, or strength in numbers, potential for less duplication of service, purchasing power, communication and networking, sharing information, policy, procedures and shared tools, to name a few. He also explained what an Association is. It is an entity with a Board of Directors, and has constitutional requirements and by-laws and would need to be funded, at least partially by the members. Representation would need to be determined (i.e. community size, regional, etc.). The attendees were worried about the costs and time commitment that would required if an Association was formed. They felt that the Handi-van services can lobby the government by having their municipality bring a motion before the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) for inclusion in the resolutions. One individual expressed concern that your needs were not taken care of if you happened to be in a poorly supported rural Handi-van service. For example the current Municipal government is not particularly supportive of the rural Handi-van service.
Some also suggested that perhaps the AMM should form a Handi-van sub-committee to address and lobby the government on common concerns and issues.
The TONS Coordinator is pleased that a thoughtful discussion occurred, the matter has been dealt with and a method to raise concerns has been identified.
E. FUND RAISING IDEAS
There were some very clever fund raising ideas that were shared including having the Town donate a hectare of land that is sown in canola. The land, seed, fertilizer and harvesting is all provided by the community. The recipient gets the proceeds of the sale of the crop.
Promoting in memoriams for seniors who utilize the Handi-van services and/or selling advertising space to a local business and placing it on the Handi-van are just a sample of the fund raising ideas.
See attached – List of Fund Raising Ideas – Appendix C
3. OPERATIONAL ISSUES/CONCERNS
- Attendees were unaware of and therefore not accessing grants available through MDTP including the Regional Incentive Grant, the Handi-Transit Vehicle Replacement Fund* and the Small Communities Transit Fund* (ends in 2013 towards vehicle replacement or purchase of an additional vehicle). The last two funds* are federal funds that are administered by MDTP. Applications were available at the meeting and provided to those who were interested.
- Some rural Handi-van services are not meeting expected annual reporting requirements, within the timeframe necessary to ensure funding from April 1 to March 31st of the following year. This includes submission of both the MDTP Annual Operating report and audited Financial Statements. It is difficult to secure the services of an auditor at the end of March, as this is also the income tax deadline.
- Some of the attendees requested that Local Government compile and share the data or information that they provide annually to MDTP into a summary report with data from all Handi-van services. This data includes things like total mileage, number of trips, number of vehicles, driver rates, passenger fees, etc. This would allow the Handi-van services to gain information on how the other services function. The summary report used to be provided annually.
- Municipal participation is a requirement under MDTP. Municipal representation on the rural Handi-van board and succession planning for these boards are common concerns.
- Municipal engagement and financial support varies widely from providing the MDTP grant and guaranteeing to cover any deficit (an MDTP requirement), to making direct contributions, or in-kind contributions, as well as Handi-van Board membership (an MDTP requirement). Handi-van services with municipal funding were more likely to have paid drivers.
- Many Handi-van services were not aware of or not taking advantage of, bulk purchasing through the sponsoring Municipality. Bulk purchasing can be used for insurance, gas, tires, office supplies and vehicles including used vehicles.
- Everyone spoke about the rising costs putting strain on their operations. However, few, if any rural Handi-van services had calculated what it costs to operate their service. In “For Profits” the service cost is priced into the customer fee; but “Not for Profits” do not follow this formula. When the costs are not built into the service fee, more rides equals more loss! A costing analysis is essential to knowing what to charge passengers and set a realistic target for additional fund raising. A costing analysis would include: the cost of the vehicle (and replacement cost), fuel, insurance, vehicle maintenance, garaging the vehicle, office costs i.e. phone, printing, advertising, etc., salary costs -office and driver(s), “volunteers”, staff training e.g. CPR, etc. Annually the total cost could be divided by the number of kilometers driven to calculate a cost per km. This would allow an assessment of the true cost of the service (including increases). Any increases may not be charged in the user fees, but then you have to know what the operation is losing to inform fund raising initiatives. Even if services are provided by volunteers, it must still be shown as a cost e.g. audit is provided for “free”. Once these costs are more clearly known, it will be easier to compare costs to revenue and educate the community as to the costs of operation and why the rates are set as they are. Presently, public education tends to be vague – everything costs more, so the price must be increased. Revenue must also be tracked including volunteer contributions.
- There was discussion about establishing a “community transit fund” and seeking donations from service clubs and in memoriam donations, etc.
- No one spoke of evaluating their Handi-van service, not even when the ridership is down. A decrease in ridership could happen for any number of reasons and may not be attributed to increases in fares.
- Local ambulances are being used as stretcher services, taking the ambulance out of the community. If a medical situation arises the Handi-van service is being called upon to transport the person to hospital. In some cases, senior outings that had been planned for months have had to be cancelled on short notice. Cancellations leave the impression that the service cannot be counted on and reduces ridership.
- The name “Handi-van service” continues to have a negative connotation that deters ridership. “Community Transportation” was suggested as a preferable name choice.
- The rural Handi-van services were often not connected to their community’s existing Age Friendly committee. Seniors are an asset to a community. There are some natural alliances that could be pursued to the benefit of seniors, the Handi-van service and the community as a whole.
4. NEXT STEPS
- Most meeting attendees want TONS to continue to host meetings, preferably annually but at least once every two years.
- They also want to increase communication between the Rural Handi-van services and are seeking a mechanism, or venue to pose questions, get feedback, share answers, ideas and best practises.
- At the suggestion of the attendees a list was passed and most attendees provided their contact information indicating they were willing to share their contact information with those in attendance as a way to start sharing information.
- They would like TONS to assist with this, perhaps as a clearing house for questions, or as an internet moderator.
- The list will be shared with all who were present and provided their information.
- The TONS Coordinator intends to pursue ways to connect services so they can pose questions and seek solutions from other operations. There are several internet based educational tools that allow questions to be posed and responses recorded. Some are in real time and some have voice capability. Many are free of charge.
- Coordinator and Rural Committee Chair will schedule a meeting with Joe Masi to discuss the suggestions regarding the AMM.
5. FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS
- Should TONS attempt to engage the rural Handi-van services that were not in attendance to determine why they appear to be disinterested?
- How might Rural Handi-van services support other transportation initiatives such as Changing Seats?
- How will new bus services impact on rural Handi-van providers?
- Can age-friendly communities do more to support rural handi-vans?
This report was prepared by Pam McConnell, Coordinator, Transportation Options Network for Seniors (TONS).
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