Some services are not made for rural communities and their absence threatens the human dignity of individuals.
That’s the lesson Roberts Creek resident Lynn Chapman learned after her husband, John Turnbull, was diagnosed with ALS and lost his ability to walk, leaving them scrambling to find accessible transportation options.
“Until you have the experience of needing a service that’s not in place, you don’t understand what it looks like,” Chapman said. Coast journalist.
Chapman and Turnbull first sensed that feeling last July when they arranged a ride from their home to Sechelt Hospital for an imaging test.
The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) has “moved heaven and earth” to get them to the appointment on time, but were initially told – wrongly – that they would not qualify for door-to-door service. -door offered by handyDart from BC Transit. bus system because they lived outside the service limits.
Their home is just outside the 1.5 kilometer radius of the BC Transit bus system. Anyone who lives beyond cannot access handyDart.
While the error was corrected and they were driven, for Chapman, 74, the logistical hurdle did not end there.
She was told that she would have to push her husband down their long, narrow, sloping driveway to reach the bus because, in fact, he couldn’t drive to their door. A family member stepped in to help.
“If I had been alone I couldn’t have made him climb that hill,” she said.
Finally, they arrived at the rendezvous. But the ordeal left her shocked that distance from the fixed bus line system was a determining factor in whether a person with limited mobility on the Sunshine Coast can get affordable public transportation. “This is completely wrong,” she said.
Turns out she’s not alone.
Transit business owners Maryanne Brabander and Ryan Staley formed the Getting There Society to provide affordable transportation for people with limited mobility to access health care and other basic services, which they say , is a human right.
The couple hope to secure grants and donations to raise $ 200,000 to fund Egmont’s operations in Langdale, with the long-term goal of purchasing an affordable electric van.
They are also reaching out to other transportation service providers who operate on the coast in the hope of establishing a public transportation network for people who use wheelchairs, scooters, service dogs, or have problems. accompanying persons.
Staley said they often get requests for wheelchair accessible vehicles, either for medical appointments in the Lower Mainland or point-to-point transportation up the coast, because unless people live in the handyDart service area and can plan their trip two weeks in advance. , or are on a bus line, no public transport is available.
“There is a lack of transportation there, especially beyond the fixed route transit system and beyond the handyDart system,” said Staley, owner of the Coastal Rides rideshare business.
It’s so bad that some people are forced to travel by ambulance through B.C.’s emergency health services if they don’t live within the boundaries of the handyDart service, said Brabander, who owns an emergency health service. accessible transportation company called Care For A Lift.
Chapman said Coast journalist they were confronted with this possibility in January when they had to bring Turnbull to an ALS clinic in Vancouver.
At that point, she was unfamiliar with Care For A Lift and they had to be at the Langdale terminal early – too early for HandyDart’s hours of service.
“There we [were], trying to figure out how the heck we’re going to get to JS Strong, ”Chapman said.
She called “just about every organization I could think of” to get a wheelchair accessible van, but “totally blew up”.
Eventually, Chapman got a ride through Care For A Lift. The trip in a wheelchair accessible van got them to the rendezvous comfortably and safely and home – all the way down their aisle to the front door.
While Care For A Lift offers accessible transportation for people with reduced mobility, at $ 300 for a trip to West Vancouver with an attendant, the service is out of reach for those on fixed incomes.
Chapman said his trip cost nearly $ 400. For her, the expense was worth it.
“The difference in the service was night and day,” she said. “It gives you back your self-esteem and your dignity. It makes you feel like you’re not just a wheelchair, you’re not just a burden.
The idea to start a nonprofit arose in part because of the pandemic, which revealed how difficult accessibility can be for people with limited mobility, Brabander said. Coast journalist.
He was asked to fill gaps in services left open after Vancouver Coastal Health was forced to close its volunteer driver program.
But not everyone could afford their rates. “COVID has really shown a whole different side to the transportation problem,” she said.
“When you have people on fixed incomes and they need to have accessibility, and they rely on volunteer drivers and they have mobility issues, there was a real problem. “
Coastal Rides’ fleet, on the other hand, does not include a wheelchair accessible van and staff are not trained to assist people with reduced mobility. Taxis either.
Brabander and Staley say Getting There Society would fill this gap – using reservation technology and licenses already in place for both companies, as well as their vehicles, including the wheelchair-accessible van, with customers billed at rates more affordable.
A fare structure is still being worked out, Staley said, as it will depend on grants and fundraising income – but if they can raise enough to cover driver costs, “then we can probably lower the fare. about 75 percent, “mentioned.
They also plan to allow organizations to rent the van already operated by Care For A Lift, as well as an electric van if purchased later. “It’s for the community,” Brabander said. “If we have a vehicle accessible to many organizations on the Sunshine Coast, that’s the big goal. “
The SCRD confirmed to Coast Reporter that it supports an additional service and sees “the benefit of having additional wheelchair accessible public transportation for people who live outside the boundaries of handyDart.”
A 2014 transit future plan indicated that the coast’s aging population would have a “significant impact on demand” for the handyDart service. At that time, there were 171 regular users of the service.
Brabander and Staley have been asking for grants since their nonprofit was formed in March and are also looking to residents of the Sunshine Coast for help with fundraising. “If we want this vehicle to be available in the community, we’re going to need some community support,” Staley said.
“We just want to make it affordable,” Brabander said. “We want to fill a gap and we want to keep the community connected. “