Expanding use of Handi-vans could bring some relief to rural Manitobans who no longer drive and now struggle to find rides to out-of-town appointments, the Manitoba Women’s Institute says.
The aging population of our small towns is increasingly reliant on family or volunteers to drive them, but there are also those who don’t even have that option.
The problem has become increasingly evident since Greyhound Canada stopped servicing its rural network a few years ago, said Ann Mandziuk, who became the MWI’s new president during its annual meeting May 7.
“Most of those at our meeting are rural residents so they know there’s been a decline or absolute loss (of public transportation),” Mandziuk said. “They’re looking for ways these existing Handi-vans could transport people.”
MWI members have noted that some communities already use their local Handi-vans for intra-community transport, but not all.
Mandziuk said the resolution not only proposes seeing ridership expand so more people can use it more often, but that there be a standard policy for all communities right across Manitoba. With regulatory changes, these vans could be “a more usable service to the entire community,” the resolution said.
The 350-member MWI isn’t the first group to raise the flag about lack of public transportation for rural areas. Other groups such as the Transportation Options Network for Seniors (TONS) organization and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities have pushed for flexible bus services to meet demand in rural areas.
It’s a growing need and something must be figured out, said Brandon-based Donna Young, MWI past president. Otherwise small towns will see even more decline, as rural populations age, there are more non-drivers among them, and health services continue to centralize.
“People will have to start moving to the bigger centres,” said Young.
This and nine other resolutions were supported at the May convention.
The general theme was how to keep people living rurally, Mandziuk added, noting another resolution supported called for keeping ambulance rates consistent across the province.
Needs of an aging rural population also dominated discussions. One resolution calls for better access to, and reduced wait times for home care, as well as adequate long-term health facilities, diagnostic services, and professional geriatric medical staffing.
Delegates also supported resolutions calling for mandatory childhood vaccinations, boosting federal funding to improve education for First Nations students, and improved recycling services.
The women’s organization also says the Department of Agriculture should facilitate regular annual farm safety training sessions, and place special emphasis on preventing grain entrapments.
Lieutenant-Governor Janice Filmon gave the keynote address at the convention, focusing her talk on issues the MWI has addressed historically and referencing 1916 as the year Manitoba women gained the right to vote due to the diligence of Nellie McClung and “the Famous Five.”
New provincial Minister of Indigenous and Municipal Relations Eileen Clarke also addressed the convention.