The mayor of Tignish is ‘very unhappy’ the Access PEI office in his community has remained closed.
“Council is getting complaints daily from residents of Tignish and the surrounding areas,” said Allan McInnis.
Access PEI offices had been closed for two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Offices in Souris, Charlottetown, Summerside and O’Leary reopened to the public with modified services on May 12. The offices in Alberton and Tignish are still closed.
Mr McInnis said residents in his community are upset they have to travel to the O’Leary office to access services.
“We shouldn’t have to drive half and an hour to O’Leary and back,” said the mayor. “Some people have spent over two hours down there.”
The Tignish Access PEI site is located on School Street, in the same building as the library, the offices for Tignish Initiatives and the cultural centre.
“All they have to do is hire a student, the same as they did in O’Leary, to clean up after each person goes in and monitor the amount of people who go in the Access centre here,” said Mr McInnis. “Our Access centre is actually in a perfect spot because it has an entrance and exit, you don’t have to meet people coming in and going out at the same time.”
The Director of Access PEI said the decision to open only four sites across PEI was about pooling resources and maintaining safety for both staff and clients.
In the case of the offices in Tignish and Alberton, they are one person staffed sites.
“When we decided to open, we needed extra resources, cleaners, someone to do screening at the door, so the idea was at that point was lets look to see how we can consolidate our resources and make sure we create a safe environment,” said Mark Arsenault.
The site in O’Leary is a bigger office and it’s centrally located, two of the reasons why it was selected to open, explained Mr Arsenault. Staff from Tignish and Alberton are currently working in O’Leary as well,
But now that some of its sites are up and running, Access PEI is working on a plan to reopen the remaining offices.
Mr Arsenault said they are hoping to reopen the Tignish office by mid-September and are exploring two possible options that would allow them to safely open the remaining West Prince sites.
“Obviously, we can’t have one person sites in light of the pandemic,” said Mr Arsenault. “We need to make sure that there’s escalated cleaning procedures and we have to ensure we are screening at the door for symptoms and travelling, so we are looking at hiring casuals to have more than one person working at the site so we can maintain that safety for our staff and for clients.”
The other option is having staff rotating between the two offices and having them open on select days.
“Hopefully, we can find enough resources to open both offices, but that would be another interim solution,” said Mr Arsenault.
He added there’s also the process of getting the offices ready to reopen, like installing Plexiglas and setting up social distancing markers.
Mr Arsenault said the open Access PEI sites have been busy, which he contributes to the extension given to vehicle registrations and driver’s license, which expired on July 6. He said once that backlog has been cleared, wait times should return to normal.
In June, the Access PEI office in Montague began a pilot project, offering limited ‘contactless’ services to the public through email and phone only, including driver’s license renewals, vehicle registration renewals and address changes.
Mr Arsenault said the pilot project has proven effective.
“On average, we run about 22,000 online registrations a year, and I think already in the first six weeks, we’re at 7,000,” he said. “We are definitely seeing an escalation of the number of people who are going online and being able to renew your driver’s license over the phone using your prior picture has definitely been a success as well.”
Mr Arsenault said the Montague pilot project isn’t just for Kings County residents, but for all Islanders to use.
While the Tignish site closure is only temporary, Mr McInnis fears it could become permanent and the town could lose their Access PEI centre.
“I don’t think that we should have to go to O’Leary to register our vehicles or get our driver’s license,” said Mr McInnis. “I think we deserve better than that.”
Mr Arsenault said there is no long-term plans to permanently close the Access PEI office in Tignish.
“We definitely see that office beneficial to that part of the Island,” he said. “We understand the importance of Access PEI in rural communities.”