SACKVILLE, N.B.– Tantramar residents looking for a way to get to medical appointments and grocery shopping will continue to have a more affordable and accessible option available to them.
Rural Rides recently announced it will expand its six-month pilot project into an ongoing door-to-door service in the Tantramar region, providing residents with low-cost transportation to get to where they need to go when it comes to health care and food needs.
Kelly Taylor, coordinator of Rural Rides, said judging by the demand shown in the first four months of the six-month pilot, the need for this service in Tantramar is even higher than expected. When Rural Rides launched its transportation service in the area in June, it had a goal of attracting seven clients. To date, they have served 26 clients – five in Dorchester, 10 in Port Elgin and 11 in Sackville.
By the end of October, clients had used the driver service 120 times, with another 26 booked for November, far surpassing the goal of 50 rides that had been set for the entire six-month period, which ends in December.
As well, eight volunteers (three in Dorchester, three in Sackville and two in Port Elgin) have signed up to be drivers in the region, exceeding the goal of five that had been set by Rural Rides.
“So as you can see, based on the markers, the pilot is a success and there is obviously a need for this service in this area going forward,” Taylor told town councillors during their discussion meeting earlier this month.
Taylor said she also anticipates the number of clients will continue to grow as word-of-mouth spreads about the service.
Already covering the Salisbury-Petitcodiac region, Taylor said Rural Rides decided to offer the service in Tantramar after receiving a number of requests to consider expanding into the area.
“There was an expressed interest and a need and a desire to have transportation in this area.”
Typical clients, she said, include seniors, individuals with disabilities (although not currently equipped to handle wheelchairs), and low-income households. The program is also accessed frequently by rural residents to reach essential services within more dense centres.
Members of low-income families pay a reduced rate of 25 cents per kilometre, while others are charged 70 cents. So far, during the pilot, Taylor points out that every single client has qualified for the subsidized rate.
“What that tells us is that there is a deep need for transportation for low-income families and low-income seniors in this area,” she said.
Volunteer drivers supply their own vehicle for the service but are reimbursed 35 cents per kilometre for fuel expenses, meaning the service has so far been operating at a loss.
“That may sound like really poor business practice,” said Taylor, “but the reality is that transportation is almost always subsidized and it’s never something that’s going to make a profit. We are a registered charity so we are not in to make a profit. We are in it to meet a need that exists in the community.”
During this six-month trial, Rural Rides has only been providing transportation to out-of-town medical appointments and for food needs – although that could later be expanded to include work training, social engagements and recreational outings.
Taylor said 120 rides just for food and medical is a “real eye-opener” as to the need in the area.
Joanna Brown, community coordinator with Westmorland Albert Action Co-op, one of the sponsoring groups working with Rural Rides, told council that it’s an asset to have transportation options available in the community and hopes the municipality will step up and provide support to ensure this service continues.
“We do need help to continue to do this,” said Brown.
The group is requesting a contribution of about $4,100 per year from the town to help fund the program, an amount equivalent to 75 cents per resident. She said Rural Rides will also be applying for grant funding from the province and other foundations, as well as working with community partners, to offset the costs.
Although town council made no firm commitments during the meeting, both councillors Bill Evans and Megan Mitton voiced their strong support of ensuring the transportation service continues.
“This falls into the realm of public service,” said Evans. “This is one (service) that is hugely important to those who need it.”