The number of riders using Rocky View Regional Handibus to get to and from appointments has steadily grown throughout 2017.
“Each quarter we’ve been doing more trips than we were expecting to,” said Rocky View Regional Handibus Society Executive Director Paul Siller.
While the increase in need is not necessarily surprising, Siller said that they have been surprised by the fact demand in Chestermere is growing as fast as it has.
“Chestermere has a fairly young median age,” he said.
“When the median age of a community is low, we’re not supposed to get a lot of calls,” said Siller, “As it goes up there’s more situations where there is a disabling condition that prevents driving.”
Chestermere has seen an 11 per cent increase in the number of trips originating in the city.
There has also been a 22 per cent increase in the number of people who reside in Chestermere and are registered with the service
Siller primarily attributes the increases they have seen to an aging population.
While Chestermere has a fairly young population, Siller thinks that much of the increased demand here has come from younger adults bringing their parents to live with them.
“We’ve had a couple of phone calls recently where people…are moving in with their daughter, son-in-law, kind of thing and asking about how do they get transportation to dialysis,” he said.
Rocky View Regional Handibus serves clients in Rocky View County and six of the eight municipalities within it, excluding Calgary.
However, they do take people to and from appointments in Calgary.
With the increasing demand for their services, Siller said that securing increased funding to match the increased demand is their biggest challenge in the coming year.
As a rural charity that operates a community transit program providing transportation options to members in the community facing mobility and transit issues they rely heavily on the support of the municipalities that they operate within for funding.
With the smaller overall population that it is serving, Rocky View Regional Handibus Society doesn’t have the funding to be able to run as extensive a service as its Calgary counterpart.
“Calgary is spending $27 per capita and we’re spending $6.70 per capita,” said Siller.
To be able to operate within their means, Rocky View Regional Handibus rations the number of trips they can provide to each client.
“We have 20 one way trips per month, or 10 round trips,” said Siller.
Those limited trips approximately covers a person with three dialysis appointments per week.
With this limitation, they have tried to find a balance between providing daily transportation with sporadic transportation to appointments.
Looking to the future, Siller said that his focus is to secure more funding so that Rocky View Regional Handibus can, not just meet new demand but can expand their service offerings.
“We do need to find some better funding,” he said.
Currently, their funding grows by about 8 per cent each year.
“Demand has been growing at 12 to 18 per cent a year,” he said.
“In the future we’re going to have to figure out how to ramp up the municipal support,” said Siller.
In addition to the funding they receive from the municipalities, Rocky View Regional Handibus charges riders $4 per 10 kilometres of traveled distance.
Beyond finding new funding, Siller said they are looking at increasing their quality of service by adding the ability to book more flexible same day travel.
“We do have scheduling software but we need to ramp it up,” he said.