The families of individuals with intellectual or physical disabilities in the Haut-Saint-Laurent have been on the road a lot more, since cuts to the adapted transportation services offered by the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent were put in place on November 6.
The hours for the service, which offers door-to-door transportation during the week to eligible residents within the MRC and to Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, have been reduced by two hours and now stop for the day at 5 p.m. Transportation to Montreal, Chateauguay, and Longueuil for medical purposes has also been affected by this change.
“I was never even notified,” says Marlene Harvey, the director of Melissa’s Sunshine Camp, a non-profit organization supporting the social lives and integration of individuals with intellectual or physical disabilities in the Haut-Saint-Laurent as well as their families. She says that while the reduced hours will not significantly impact the camp’s day services, their evening programs may be at risk. “We are trying to create more respite for parents,” she explains. “This is very limiting. We will have to modify our activities,” she laments.
The changes will also increase pressure on families with Special Olympic athletes who rely on the adapted transport system to travel to and from training sessions in Valleyfield. Harvey says she became aware of the new hours after a parent notified a Special Olympics coach of the change. “This impacts their autonomy,” she explains. It could also limit their participation in the Special Olympics program.
Harvey notes some coaches have expressed concern that certain athletes may not be able to continue with the program, as the additional transport costs and travel time will be very difficult for some parents to assume. For athletes living in a residence, the change will also be very limiting.
Harvey will now be driving her daughter Meghan Condie home from Valleyfield several nights per week. Condie is a decorated competitive swimmer and track-and-field athlete with the Quebec Special Olympics. This winter she will be heading to Calgary to compete in snowshoeing events at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games. Harvey says it simply isn’t an option for her to miss training sessions.
High costs and little support
The MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent, which coordinates the area’s adapted transportation services, says the decision came down to budgetary considerations and a lack of government support.
Between 2019 and 2022, the operating costs for adapted transport doubled from $338,893 to $675,922, resulting in an accumulated deficit of $161,193 in 2022. Of these costs, the provincial transport ministry covered $302,806, or 44 per cent, while the community’s contribution amounted to 56 per cent, or $373,116. The projected deficit for 2023 sits at $203,000.
The MRC carried out an analysis and adopted several recommendations to balance the budget. These include a reduction in service hours to between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., as well as fixed service hours to Valleyfield, a limit of five out-of-territory trips per year, and a limit to the number of out-of-territory destinations available to those travelling for medical purposes.
In a statement issued to The Gleaner, the MRC notes that government subsidies have not been indexed since 2019, and points to underfunding as one of the main reasons so many transport organizations are facing deficit situations, suggesting they are not alone in having had to intervene on the supply side to balance budgets.