Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lethbridge Herald: Letter to editor "Access-a-Ride drivers provide yeoman service "

Lethbridge herald, March 19, 2009

Access-a-Ride drivers provide yeoman service
Written by Jean Korth
Thursday, 19 March 2009

I have a concern and I hope others will agree with me.

Many people don’t understand much about Access-a-Ride (formerly Handibus) because most people are independent and have their own means of transportation or are able to use our great transit system.

I understand it now because I have to use their services to go from south Lethbridge to West Highlands assisted living facility to visit my sister. Their drivers (male and female) are exceptional.

Now for the concerns:
Access-a-Ride drivers do not receive the same wages as transit drivers and yet their responsibilities appear to be so much more. Could something be done about that?
The drivers pick you up at your door, seat you in the bus, take you to your destination, with the same routine coming home, and they take you to the door and wait until you are in safely.

Many people do not realize how much work it is to strap down one to five wheelchairs (maybe more) and ensure everyone on the bus has seatbelts done up properly. When they reach their destination, in the case of the wheelchairs or walkers, they wheel you to the door again. That’s what I call caring.

With children as passengers, if there is no one home, the driver won’t leave them unless the child has a key and the driver makes sure they are in the home before they leave. Otherwise the drivers keep them on the bus.

If I wore a hat, I would take it off to these drivers. They are so polite, caring and friendly and they call the riders by name, which is nice.

Access-a-Ride is an essential service and as more seniors and disabled persons become more dependent on these services, perhaps more buses and drivers will be necessary.

Thank you, drivers, dispatchers and other persons involved in making the lives of a lot of seniors better.

I look forward each day to reading The Herald’s letters to the editor. Many thanks to the contributors.

Jean Korth
Lethbridge

Friday, March 06, 2009

PARATRANSIT WATCH: March Update

We found a very interesting blog- Paratransit Watch. This month's entry has some excellent treasures:

PARATRANSIT WATCH: March Update

MARCH UPDATE - New this month to the directory are three comprehensive studies published in 2008 that are well worth a look during these troubled economic times:

1. Integration of Paratransit and Fixed-Route Transit Services
2. Creative Ways to Manage Paratransit Costs
3. Paratransit Providers Tap Technology to Meet Increasing Demand


(goto PARATRANSIT WATCH: March Update for the actual links)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Op-Ed; Rocky View Weekly -- Handibus funding needs

Feb 10, 2009
Rocky View’s gesture underscores handibus funding needs
Opinion, Rocky View Weekly

The MD of Rocky View is to be commended for the boost it gave the Rocky View Regional Handibus Society last week when it donated a brand new vehicle.

The handibus society’s goal is to offer timely transportation to those who cannot carry themselves across the MD’s large territory. It is organized as a non-profit society, with a volunteer board of directors and drivers paid modest wages.

Among its clients are seniors who are no longer able to drive and those who must attend doctor appointments or treatments. Some residents have regular need for trips to the city for treatments such as dialysis or cancer treatment and those with special needs and the youth are also frequent users of the service.

As hospital beds grow scarce and patients are released back to their communities sooner, transportation is needed.

Rocky View handibus drivers travel to remote areas, pick up their clients and bring them to their destination, with their wheelchairs if needed, and take them back home when they are done.

The handibus transports many to buy groceries or for social events, helping reduce their isolation, reducing risk of depression.

However, in spite of its usefulness, handibus providers in small municipalities do not have a predictable federal, provincial or municipal funding source, constraining its members to a constant quest for the next donation or fundraising campaign.

The provincial government, used to send a grant to municipalities across Alberta for special transportation. However, in 1994 it decided to remove the strings attached to the grant, letting municipalities decide what to do with the funds.

As a result, most handibus organizations across the province saw the grant disappear in the black hole of general revenues, and replaced with occasional grants given from time to time.

After Alberta eliminated its deficit and debt, no provincial support for special needs transportation was re-established. No provincial guidelines today require municipalities to provide special needs transportation.

The result, general manager of the Rocky View handibus Paul Siller says, is that “we never know if we are going to make through the next year.”

He estimates that 100 special transportation providers across Alberta help the province save between $75 and $100 million a year.

For example, Siller notes that a local patient had to stay in hospital when the handibus society did not have the capacity to transport her to hospital for regular dialysis. If the society had been able to transport her, the hospital would have saved $22,000 over her two-week stay. That amount would have allowed the handibus to to transport her for 18 months.

The MD wisely used provincial funds that are part of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative to purchase a new bus for the use of the handibus society. However, not all municipalities in this region, which are serviced by the organization, have made the same choice.

That’s too bad. Too bad for the taxpayers and too bad for the people who find themselves in need of this service.

Filling this gap in the social safety net seems like a no-brainer.

It’s the neighbourly thing to do.