Grey Power is sharpening its teeth

As a baby boomer with an acute sense of mortality, I tend to pay attention when our jargon-festooned provincial government celebrates

As a baby boomer with an acute sense of mortality, I tend to pay attention when our jargon-festooned provincial government celebrates the aging process.

The flavour-de-jour seems to be “age-friendly communities.” As slogans go, it has a nice inclusive ring to it . . . right up there with “families first.” The health ministry states: “In an age-friendly B.C., older people are supported to live active, socially engaged, independent lives.”

This initiative invites seniors to ask if their communities merit the age-friendly moniker. Can older folks “get around easily and safely in the community?” And, most importantly, “can older persons travel wherever they want to go in the community, conveniently and safely?”

To these I add a third question: Will ‘Grey Power’ prevail when government decides it can’t afford to be as age-friendly as it should?

As I have discussed before in this space, when seniors, particularly ones with disabilities, make the often heart-breaking journey from independence to dependence, the preservation of mobility becomes essential. Without it, seniors are dead in the water.

The need for age-friendly communities has been reinforced with the release of the 2011 Census numbers. They tell us what we already know: a grey tsunami is sweeping our shores and with it comes more demands for seniors’ services, not less.

Seven out of 10 Canadian municipalities with the highest proportion of seniors are in B.C., including Oak Bay where more than a quarter of the population is 65-plus and Qualicum Beach where almost half the population is old farts.

The impact of our aging demographic is hardly breaking news. So, why are seniors continually forced to fight service and mobility setbacks at a time when age-friendly enhancements are essential?

A case in point is the TaxiSaver program that TransLink decided to axe in mid-May under the disingenuous guise of “increased service through more efficient operations.” The program provides 50-per-cent taxi discounts and has been an important adjunct to HandyDART. Some seniors are too frail to use the HandyDART system. As well, the hit-and-miss HandyDART bus only gets clients where they need to go, but not when they need to be there. So much for health emergencies.

TransLink cites fraud in the system. Coupons can be handed out to friends and relatives, it says. But that issue could be easily remedied with a little administrative due diligence, which TransLink does not have the wit to apply.

Well, chock one up for outraged seniors and disabled persons. The stink they have raised over the cancellation has been so deliciously noxious that TransLink has been forced to hold its nose and delay its plan to axe the program.

Angry seniors who invaded the TransLink AGM last week did not score an outright victory, but they did force the agency to go back to the drawing board. TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis says more consultations will be held before a final decision is made.

“We thought we had a full understanding of the issues. Clearly we don’t. The reaction, when it became known, caused us to say we need to talk to more people.”

Jill Weiss, chair of the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee, says her group would have liked to hear TransLink admit it made a mistake and promise not to eliminate TaxiSaver. It did not.

But Grey Power has made TransLink blink and that is a victory in and of itself. M

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