Liberals slow to roll out Metrobus pass plan for income support clients

The Liberal government is taking longer than promised to follow through on a campaign pledge that would provide Metrobus passes to all income support clients in the St. John's metro area.

The bus pass plan was listed in the "better health-care outcomes" section of the party's red book platform.

Weeks before the campaign began, a CBC News investigation revealed that the province's current medical transportation policy for income support clients had resulted in "unintended consequences."

Clients who have eight or more medical appointments per month are provided with a fully covered bus pass.

Those who have fewer appointments don't qualify.

The result? Patients were scheduling unneeded doctors' appointments so they could get a Metrobus pass, and sometimes missing appointments because they had no way to get there. Ambulances were called in some cases because patients didn't have money to pay for a bus or taxi.

Internal government briefing notes revealed a snarl of red tape and "significant" resources being tied up to administer the program.

Doctors complained they were spending too much time on paperwork — time that could be better used to treat patients.

Red book promise would cost $3.7M a year

The initiative announced in the Liberal red book would address some of those concerns.

Liberal campaign officials told CBC News the busing plan would be in place within six months, and would cost an estimated $3.7 million a year. 

The minority second-term Dwight Ball administration was sworn in on May 30. That six-month period has now come and gone. 

Rob Antle/CBC

While the rubber has yet to hit the road, the province says it will — eventually.

The government "stands by its commitment to provide bus passes to income support clients in the St. John's/metro region," the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour said in an emailed statement.

Officials "are currently assessing options for delivery in early 2020."

An update is expected in the coming weeks.

An alphabet soup of departments has been involved in examining both the medical transportation program in particular, and the broader issue of more affordable Metrobus passes for low-income residents. 

That list includes AESL (Advanced Education, Skills and Labour), HCS (Health and Community Services) and CSSD (Children, Seniors and Social Development).

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