A bus belonging to the Disabled Transportation Society (DTS) is parked behind Prairie Mall on March 25, 2018.
Peter Shokeir / Daily Herald-Tribune
The future remains uncertain for the Disabled Transportation Society (DTS) of Grande Prairie as the society announced a reduction in service to essential priority levels.Transportation will be limited to wheelchair clients for medical, education and employment purposes starting Saturday, June 1. All other services are suspended. The society has attributed this reduced service to a lack of funding from the City of Grande Prairie.“We’re concerned about our clients and wish to assure everyone that we are focused on the clients,” said DTS Board Chair Barry Menard. “DTS recognizes that the current funding levels and model are not sustainable. We call upon the city to work with together with us and our funding partners to ensure the community is supported to the best possible level.”The DTS is a non-profit society that has provided door-to-door transportation over the past 45 years for residents unable to access other forms of transportation.In a release, the society noted that requests for additional funding had been met with “resistance and hostility” from the city. It also warned that the service could potentially close June 30.City representatives including Mayor Bill Given have since met with the society Wednesday to discuss how the service could continue. Menard said the DTS may avoid closure depending on how talks proceed.“For the past couple of years, we’ve indicated our position in wanting the city to take over because it is getting rather large,” Menard said. “A $1.1-million operating budget with a volunteer board is quite excessive, in my mind, for a hobby—for a lack of a better term.”Menard explained that he personally had a family member with ability issues who would no longer be able to access the service because of this development.“I hope the community can understand why we’ve had to do this,” he said. “But unless we can come up with other funding streams, we’re going to have to operate to budget because even if the city does transition our takeover, we’re going to need some money to transition out as well.”Menard added that this transition should include the employees who are already familiar with the service and unionized with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which is the same union that city staff utilize.The city has invested over $7 million into supporting the DTS over the past decade with support increasing 26 per cent since 2015. City council has also allocated nearly $1 million in support of the service for this year, while the County of Grande Prairie had also promised $100,000 to the society earlier this month.Mayor Given stated that he was caught off-guard by the announcement.“To hear such a strong position out of the gates was a bit of a surprise,” Given said. “But having said that, city council and I and our entire organization are absolutely committed to ensuring that the residents who need to be able to have accessible transportation to get to important appointments, to get out and about around the community, that those people who need it continue to have it.”Although Given was noncommittal regarding whether or not the city would take over the service, he emphasized that “all of the options are on the table” and added that users required a service that didn’t just met basic requirement but also provided a high quality of life.“The DTS, I think, is forecasting an even greater deficit for this year, which really shows that this model isn’t financially sustainable, which means that it won’t be dependable for residents to count on it,” Given said. “That’s why, as a community, we really need to come together to figure out what the best options are to provide that service on an ongoing basis.”Karen Bainbridge, who serves as DTS board secretary and utilizes the service as someone who is physically disabled, noted that the service would no longer offer transport for church, grocery shopping and recreation activities, including the Grande Prairie Stompede this weekend.“It’s going to impact a lot of the community,” Bainbridge said.She added that public transportation is often unable to accommodate disabled individuals due to tight transit schedules and ill-equipped buses.“The population is aging in Grande Prairie because of the baby boom and so this service is being needed by more and more people,” Bainbridge said.Negotiations are expected to continue between the City of Grande Prairie and the DTS.