INNISFAIL – The town wants to bring in a new transportation program targetting the needs of seniors who require rides for out-of-town appointments but volunteers are desperately needed to make it work.
The Edmonton-based Drive Happiness program has been a success for seniors for almost 20 years and will not cost local taxpayers any money.
However, it’s dependent on volunteers to support it.
“The launch on the program will be dependent of getting volunteers to actually do the driving,” said Karen Bradbury, the town’s community and social development coordinator. “That is our challenge right now. We are really struggling to get volunteers to the program.”
The Drive Happiness Seniors Association, which has been servicing seniors with the transportation program for almost 20 years, is a non-profit association with a mandate of assisting seniors to maintain an independent lifestyle that enables them to remain in their own homes.
“They do all the administration or coordination and volunteer management,” said Bradbury, noting the town’s role is to promote the program and provide volunteer support.
The program works by seniors calling Drive Happiness to book needed rides. Bradbury said fees depend on the number of kilometres seniors need for their trip. If it’s under 40 kilometres the trip will cost about $10.
Annual fees are dependent on income, noted Bradbury.
“It’s still pretty minimal,” she said, adding there is no cost to the Town of Innisfail for the program, although some municipalities could choose to make a donation to the organization to help with administration costs.
“But right now, there is no expectation of costs. Drive Happiness is just expanding across the province where they can develop those partnerships so it becomes a provincial network.”
Interested volunteer drivers can register to be part of the program. Once they are accepted, they can pick and choose what rides work for their schedules.
Bradbury said the volunteer component of the program is the amount of time they actually spend driving seniors to their appointments.
She said volunteers can make arrangements to be given a gas card to cover the cost of fuel, or they can choose not to take any reimbursement.
“It works different ways but there is the option to be reimbursed with a fuel card to help with those costs,” she said. “The great thing about it is that drivers from all over the province can choose to assist.
“If we had a senior that went from Innisfail to Calgary but that volunteer can’t stay in Calgary for an extended period of time then a volunteer in Calgary can choose to pick up rides for that senior while in Calgary.
“So those volunteers in other communities can also choose to help our seniors.”
Bradbury said the volunteer opportunity has been posted on www.volunteerconnector.org/innisfail/volunteerinnisfail.
She said it has been viewed many times but only two citizens have called the town expressing interest. She said no one has signed up yet and ideally the town would like to have between five and 10 volunteers to launch the program.
“We don’t want to start the program and then within a couple of weeks say, ‘oh sorry, we don’t have enough volunteers and we have to cancel it,” she said.
Bradbury said the Town of Innisfail, which opted out the 2A Regional Transit Route pilot project earlier this year because of low ridership, was interested in the Edmonton-based program because it filled a service gap.
She said while the town still has an excellent service with the PACE Bus, a new handivan purchased in 2019 with a 12-passenger or six-wheelchair capacity, the demand is increasing and it can be out of town for up to three hours.
“When it’s gone there is nothing in the community aside from our local cab services,” she said, adding many seniors are on fixed incomes and taxi fees can be too high.
“We are just looking at other options to provide some of those services that fill those gaps when the bus is out of town.
"Our bus also does not go to Edmonton or Calgary, and sometimes we do get those calls for services for medical rides, so we are not able to fill that whereas the Drive Happiness could certainly step in if the volunteer has that time.”
Bradbury said citizens wanting to become a volunteer can contact Drive Happiness directly at 780-424-5438 or the toll-free number 1-888-336-4503.
For more information on the Drive Happiness program go to the website at https://drivehappiness.ca/