Taber Handi-Bus As­soc. ac­quires some new wheels

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Southern Alberta - BY GREG PRICE SOUTH­ERN AL­BERTA NEWS­PA­PERS

A dream seven years in the mak­ing, the Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion’s new bus has ar­rived to help the el­derly and those with mo­bil­ity is­sues.

“We were at the point that we were sat­u­rated with rid­er­ship and it be­came ap­par­ent that we would be need­ing a new bus,” said Paul Primeau, pres­i­dent of the Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion, in ex­plain­ing a bit of the his­tory of the as­so­ci­a­tion’s quest.

When the ser­vice first started in the area seven years ago, there were 700 rides taken in a year. Now, there is 13,000 rides for the as­so­ci­a­tion’s old eight-seater bus.

“We cre­ated a new bus se­lec­tion com­mit­tee where we went to dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions like Leth­bridge and Brooks to take a look at their handi-buses to get a feel what kind of buses were out there,” said Primeau. “We did a needs assess­ment out in the com­mu­nity it­self to see what we were go­ing to re­quire for the bus.”

The new handi-bus is 24-feet long, four feet longer than the old bus, mak­ing for much more ca­pac­ity.

“It has more ca­pac­ity for wheel­chair rid­ers, along with how the bus re­strains and holds those rid­ers, is top of the line with Q re­straints,” said Primeau.

The new handi-bus has a me­chan­i­cal ramp with a rider-friendly in­cline on it for ease of load­ing and un­load­ing of cus­tomers with dif­fer­ing lev­els of mo­bil­ity, as op­posed to a wheel chair lift.

“Our new bus is equipped with a winch sys­tem. Some of our elec­tri­cal wheel­chairs are very heavy, so with the winch sys­tem, you can hook it onto the wheel­chair it­self with the rider in it, and pull them onto the ramp,” said Primeau. “These Q re­straints are de­signed such a way inside the bus so that the floor is level. The Q re­straints slip right into these small mounts, so they are out of the way and the floor is still level. There is no trip hazard and it al­lows us to lower our rid­ers with wheel­chairs safely by not hav­ing to stand be­hind them while low­er­ing them. The ramp is ac­cor­dion style and folds into it­self, there is a heater on the inside so there is never any ice build up.”

Needs as­sess­ments also called for strong air con­di­tion­ing for its users, and keep­ing the el­derly cool was es­sen­tial for the new bus.

“For a lot of our older peo­ple, tem­per­a­tures have an ad­verse af­fect on them. So we bought a bus that has 160,000 BTU value of air con­di­tion­ing in it. It’ll blow your hat right off,” chuck­led Primeau.

All the in­her­ent safety fea­tures within the Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion’s new ve­hi­cle go above and be­yond what is re­quired by law for handi-buses.

“We have the mir­rors for the driver to see and the driver has his own area where he is sep­a­rated from the rid­ers, so that no one can ob­struct him while he is try­ing to drive the bus,” said Primeau. “There is an in­ter­com sys­tem so that we can give di­rec­tions to our vis­ually-im­paired pa­trons to let them know they are at their des­ti­na­tion. There are iso­la­tion cool­ing fea­tures on the bus so that if you want to top off some flu­ids, you can iso­late it and re­pair it with­out hav­ing to drain the whole thing.”

Each of the drivers for the Taber and Dis­trict HandiBus As­so­ci­a­tion have been fully ori­en­tated with the new bus, to go along with first-aid cer­tifi­cates, re­straint cer­tifi­cates and li­censes that are up to date.

The new handi-bus has a non-wheel­chair seat­ing ca­pac­ity of 14. Other seat­ing ca­pac­ity op­tions in­clude two wheel­chairs and 10 rid­ers, or three wheel­chairs and eight rid­ers.

“That gives us the ver­sa­til­ity with the new bus to more se­lec­tively un­der­stand how we can transport peo­ple with the same needs at the same time,” said Primeau. “The idea of that is rather than shut­tling one per­son with a wheel­chair through town, we can now do three and we hope to see some econ­omy of scale in the cost to op­er­ate the bus by com­bin­ing rid­er­ship with the same needs.”

The Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion is at­tempt­ing to tran­si­tion to a more con­crete sched­ule of pick ups and drop offs for its cus­tomer base.

“Go­ing to places like Lin­den View, in­stead of trans­port­ing that one per­son in a wheel­chair, we will transport three peo­ple. It will re­ally help with our fuel econ­omy and it will help the peo­ple who are rid­ing the bus with their chance to ride with their friends for com­pan­ion­ship,” said Primeau. “It’s not just to op­ti­mize how the rides hap­pen, but by do­ing that we can in­crease our rid­er­ship.”

The new handi-bus comes in with a price tag of $153,000. A fundrais­ing cam­paign was done for al­most 18 months where the as­so­ci­a­tion was blown away by the gen­eros­ity of both the Town of Taber and M.D. of Taber coun­cils, and sur­round­ing busi­ness com­mu­nity and cit­i­zenry. The Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion was also able to garner a $75,000 grant through the Com­mu­nity Ini­tia­tives Pro­gram.

“There has been a tremen­dous amount of ex­cite­ment. The town and the M.D. re­ally worked well col­lab­o­ra­tively in help­ing us achieve our goal,” said Primeau. “For the grant, we filled out an ap­pli­ca­tion and we were in­ter­viewed over the phone where they were in­ter­ested in our busi­ness plan and what our plans were mov­ing into the fu­ture. They were very gra­cious in help­ing us close the gap in our ex­ist­ing fundrais­ing money and what we needed in top­ping off our sav­ings.”

The Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion test drove eight dif­fer­ent handi-buses. They took the buses to var­i­ous spots like Lin­den View, Clearview, and Park­side Manor and took them for rides.

“Some said ‘I don’t like this bus’ and ‘I don’t like that bus.’ But, the bus we ended up buy­ing was the most widely ac­cepted as ‘This is a fan­tas­tic bus, we can’t wait to get in it’,” said Primeau.

The Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion still has plans to get use out of its old bus, although there are now 239,000 kilo­me­tres on it.

“With the old bus, we are plan­ning on do­ing more ex­cur­sions into the M.D. At this par­tic­u­lar time, about 85 per cent of all our rides hap­pen right in Taber,” said Primeau. “We are plan­ning on mak­ing it an event bus.”

Be­ing the Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion, drivers ven­ture into the M.D. of Taber area for pick up. It has run to Vaux­hall, but the as­so­ci­a­tion is look­ing into stream­lin­ing pick up and drop off times there to maximize rid­er­ship in ar­eas the as­so­ci­a­tion has to travel the fur­thest to.

“It al­lows our peo­ple that have so much to con­trib­ute to our com­mu­nity, but can’t be­cause they are trans­porta­tion lim­ited. A lot of our el­derly folks, they have al­ready gone through their vol­un­teerism and have been part of their com­mu­nity. But be­cause they don’t have the trans­porta­tion to get back into the com­mu­nity, all that knowl­edge and spirit of com­mu­nity is lost,” said Primeau. “So we are com­mit­ted to safe and af­ford­able trans­porta­tion. This al­lows our el­derly peo­ple to get into our com­mu­nity so that they can pass on all their skills and knowl­edge and com­mu­nity spirit to the next gen­er­a­tion.”

Rides with the new handi-bus are $4 per pick up. There are bus passes also for $40 for 10 rides, with the 11th ride free.

“Our prices have not gone up for years and years,” said Primeau.

To thank the com­mu­nity for their sup­port of the new handi-bus, the ve­hi­cle will be dec­o­rated by the Taber Spe­cial Needs So­ci­ety and en­tered and show­cased at the Taber Corn­fest Pa­rade on Aug. 23. On Corn­fest Fri­day and Satur­day, free rides will be of­fered to all the mem­ber­ship of the Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion so that ev­ery­one has a chance to take in Western Canada’s big­gest free fes­ti­val.

To be el­i­gi­ble for a ride on the Taber and Dis­trict Hand-Bus, a res­i­dent must be on a mem­ber­ship list where a cer­tain amount of re­quire­ments are met.

“We need to un­der­stand who our rid­ers are. What their dis­abil­ity is, what their spe­cial care needs are so that our drivers can re­spond to their needs as re­quired,” said Primeau, adding drivers are equipped with the mem­ber­ship lists. “So to be­come a mem­ber of the Taber Handi-Bus, we have an ap­pli­ca­tion form, and if you meet that cri­te­ria that was de­ter­mined by the board and it’s things like age, dis­abil­ity which are stan­dard, then we put you on the mem­ber­ship list and then we are avail­able af­ter that to pro­vide the ser­vice.”

Af­ter the showcasing of the new handi-bus at Corn­fest, plans are for the new bus to be up and fully op­er­a­tional around mid-to-late Septem­ber. With de­mand for the handi-bus in­creas­ing nearly twen­ty­fold in less than a decade, be­yond rais­ing aware­ness of the or­ga­ni­za­tion with the Taber and Dis­trict Handi-bus As­so­ci­a­tion, Primeau added it mir­rors the chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics of the south­ern Al­berta area.

“More and more young peo­ple are leav­ing ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties like Taber and mov­ing to the city. More and more el­derly peo­ple are mov­ing from the farms to the smaller com­mu­ni­ties so that they can still be around the farm. Our pop­u­la­tion de­mo­graph­i­cally speak­ing is get­ting older. That is a trend not only in Taber but all of Al­berta (Baby Boomers),” said Primeau.

The Taber and Dis­trict Handi-Bus As­so­ci­a­tion is ask­ing for some pa­tience from the pub­lic with the new handi-bus. Be­ing four feet longer to of­fer more ca­pac­ity for rid­ers means some park­ing is­sues are go­ing to arise in do­ing pick ups and drop offs.

“Be­cause it’s longer than the old bus, drop off and pick up points in town may be changed in the fu­ture. We are cur­rently work­ing with the Taber Po­lice Ser­vice and town coun­cil to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what the best place that we can put our handi-bus signs to drop off and pick up our peo­ple on the rid­er­ship mem­ber­ship list,” said Primeau. “We are go­ing to ask peo­ple to be pa­tient. It’s go­ing to be well marked. We are still work­ing through it and it is dy­namic. The in­ten­tion is to work with the town to see where we can have des­ig­nated park­ing to have this ser­vice for a 24-foot bus as op­posed to a 20-foot bus. Ev­ery 20 min­utes, this bus is pick­ing up or drop­ping off some­one. We do not stay in one place too long, but if we hap­pen to be in front of you, wait a few min­utes and we will be on our way.”

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