By Miriam Ostermann, Associate Editor
The Strathmore Handi-bus Association received a clean bill of health this year as 2017 financials and figures propelled the non-profit organization into 2018 with strong vitals.
Records indicate that Strathmore residents relied on the service for 5,009 trips last year, or 20 to 30 trips per day, numbers comparable to previous years. The organization also purchased an additional vehicle to increase the fleet to seven, and was able to carry over government funding and their casino fundraiser donations to strengthen their position in 2018.
“I think we’ve been busier this year than we were last year, I know my dispatcher is talking a lot about how many trips she has and it’s getting difficult for her to manage the schedule,” said Tammi Sieben, Handi-bus supervisor.
The Strathmore Handi-bus Association is funded by donations from the Town of Strathmore, Wheatland County, fundraisers, government grants and private donors. The service caters to seniors over the age of 65 and persons with physical disabilities or who are dealing with a temporary handicap.
The transportation service first came into existence in 1986 with the support of the legion. It was soon turned over to the Handi-bus Association and has since grown in demand and operations.
“We’ve gone from having one big bus and volunteer drivers serving probably 20 trips a month, to seven buses, paid drivers and 5,000 trips a year,” said Florence Vander Velde, who has been involved with the Strathmore Handi-bus board of directors since 1987.
“The demand has really increased with Strathmore being a senior centre for Wheatland County, so they need the service. I have a passion for seniors and the disabled. I would like to see them with the same freedom that everybody else has and takes for granted. And I work for that.”
The non-profit operates under the authority of Alberta Transportation and requires all its drivers receive training on how to deal with people with different disabilities and seniors, on performing yearly reviews on ramps, have their first aid training and their defensive driver training, and have vehicles inspected daily as well as monthly. The drivers are also required to have their Class 4 license.
The vehicles are also required to meet certain standards and come equipped with a rotating chair for clients with mobility problems and are wheelchair accessible. The door-to-door service also requires a companion or medical assistant to accompany the client – free of charge – if the individual requires assistance. Last year, a total of 4,023 out of the 5,009 trips were dedicated to persons with disabilities.
Despite a strong financial and operations position for this year, the board and staff members are aware they will be faced with an increase in the senior population in the future, greater wait times at hospitals in Calgary, causing a strain on the budget to pay their drivers for waiting for their clients in the city, and economic woes that make it difficult to receive government funding. The association did not qualify for the Community Initiatives Programs (CIP) grant in 2016, and has submitted a new application for funding in 2018. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; service hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. Medical trips around town cost $8 for a round trip; non-medical trips for persons with a disability or in a wheelchair cost $11; while able bodied seniors are charged $15. For trips into rural areas a 55 cent per kilometre charge is applied. Those with a temporary disability are also required to obtain a temporary disability placard. Donations to the Strathmore Handi-bus Association can be dropped off at the Strathmore municipal office. More information on the Strathmore Handi-bus Association and its services can be found at strathmore.ca or by calling Tammi Sieben at 403-361-2122.