A Yukon survey querying transportation between communities has already seen hundreds of participants and is the latest review highlighting the territory’s gap in accessibility.
The survey has garnered a spirited response from Yukoners according to Jenn Ellis, a coordinator working on the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce’s Community Travel project.
The survey closes at the end of this month and has already seen more than 600 respondents.
“There’s obviously a very high interest in this topic, it’s important to a lot of people both inside Whitehorse and out in the communities,” Ellis said.
“Many people who live in Whitehorse have community connections and want to get home to visit family or for cultural activities and can’t, or get released from hospital and can’t get back. The response reinforces how important this issue is.”
Next month, data will be compiled from the survey and some recommendations for solving the problem will be conceived, Ellis said.
The survey is the latest in a slew of initiatives this year that point out the lack of travel options in the Yukon.
More than four reports issued in 2020 called for improved transportation for medical travel, seniors, First Nations women and people recently discharged from the correctional centre. The Putting People First report, an independent review of the Yukon’s health and social services released in April, called transportation a “significant issue.”
The report says that lack of transportation options worsens health inequities and hinders low-income Yukoners’ ability to attend health appointments, participate in activities and utilize employment opportunities.
It recommended that all levels of government work together to leverage funding and provide cost-effective public transportation across the Yukon.
The Putting People First report and the Yukon government’s Aging in Place Action Plan, released in September, both noted transportation as an issue for seniors.
“When people lack transportation options, it severely limits their ability to participate in society and to access services, including health and social services,” the government’s plan says.
The plan notes that lack of transportation inhibits seniors’ abilities to travel to medical appointments and increases social isolation.
In January, a two-week inquiry into the 2013 death of Cynthia Blackjack highlighted the lack of medical travel as an aggravating factor that worsened her situation.
On the day before her death, Blackjack was advised by health practitioners to find a ride from Carmacks to the Whitehorse General Hospital. Nurses testified during the inquest that the community’s single ambulance necessitated difficult decisions of when to dispatch it. Blackjack was ultimately medevaced to Whitehorse the following day, and died in transit.
The inquest’s jury recommended dedicated medical travel to Whitehorse for Carmacks residents who require care.
Safe and affordable transportation was also one of the recommendations for improving community safety in the strategy addressing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-spirit+ people (MMIWG2S+), released in December.
Safe at Home, a Yukon organization geared toward ending homelessness, also issued a report in June that said people are often discharged from hospitals, correctional centres and treatment facilities without transportation to their home community.
Vulnerable people who are discharged without transport are more likely to experience homelessness, the report said. It also suggested that some people who require services in Whitehorse may be forced to reside in the city, rather than negotiate frequent transportation.
Kate Mechan, Safe at Home implementation manager, noted that the Yukon has faced transportation issues for more than a decade.
Ellis told the News that she’s heard from a number of organizations that are also faced with transportation barriers. The food bank, parks association and the hospital have all been challenged to transport food hampers, equipment, volunteers, and patient family members to and from Whitehorse.
“I think there’s an internal network that happens, a lot of reliance on friends, family and strangers which opens a bunch of other issues around safety and convenience,” Ellis said.
Each of the studies last year noted the problem, and some cited different levels of government as the solution. None presented any specific recommendations for improved transportation.
Ellis said that she’s optimistic the data gathered will help coordinators come up with some pointed solutions.
“(We’re) looking at some different ideas for how to address the issue, including what’s been tried in other areas, and so the options analysis will start putting some ideas for discussion on the table,” Ellis said.
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at firstname.lastname@example.org