Airdrie - A new partnership between Volunteer Airdrie Society and Drive Happiness will provide community support to seniors, people with disabilities and economically challenged residents through a low-cost, accessible and short-notice transportation program.
According to chair of the board of directors at Volunteer Airdrie, David Maffitt, the society has been wrestling with the problem of transportation for in-need and at-risk residents since the first lockdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic was implemented in March 2020.
He said that at the end of March 2020, he received the first phone call from a social worker and nurse who were looking to facilitate transportation for an Airdrie resident who was being released from hospital but still needed a daily ride to Calgary for treatment.
“It wasn’t clear to me why we were getting calls and so it took a little while for us to work with Community Links as well as Airdrie Transit to figure out where the gaps were in our current resources in Airdrie,” Maffitt said. “I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel or duplicate services.”
He added the need was aggravated by the shutdown of Wheels of Hope Transportation – a volunteer-based transportation program sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Society. Many of its volunteers were considered at-risk for COVID-19, and the program quickly declined in the early days of the pandemic.
“We have also seen an increase in our calls from seniors looking for rides for vaccinations, most of that’s been driven by the lack of vaccine availability in Airdrie,” Maffitt said. He added that without Wheels of Hope, many people did not have an alternative mode of transportation to get to and from their vaccination appointments.
Maffitt said after some consideration and planning with other organizations across the Volunteer Alberta network, the society realized the gap in services arose from a last-minute need for transportation to an appointment, as most other transportation services require a week’s notice. He noted these same resources are often limited to seniors and there is a need for younger people who have no other supports, family or friends during working hours.
“Your kind of hooped because you’re not old enough to take some of the senior’s transportation services through Community Links or through Access Airdrie, so your alternative is to maybe get a neighbor, or worst-case a taxi, and pay somewhere in the range of $150 for a round trip,” Maffitt said.
He added that his biggest hope for Volunteer Airdrie’s partnership with Drive Happiness is to address the gap “to supporting not only seniors, but some of [Airdrie’s] disabled and economically challenged people that don’t have access to affordable transportation on short notice.” He said that it is one way for these people to maintain their independence, self-esteem and dignity.
The initiative was also inspired by a similar partnership between Drive Happiness and the Lethbridge Senior Centre Association. Maffitt said he spent the last several months working alongside these organizations to better understand how they work and to make sure Drive Happiness would be the right fit for Volunteer Airdrie.
“[Drive Happiness] have been doing this professionally for over 20 years, they have four or five paid staff, funding, and a ride scheduling system that just blows me away when I look at it,” Maffitt said. “And it’s not costing Airdrie anything – that’s the beauty of it. The Drive Happiness model says ‘We want to support transportation throughout Alberta.’”
Drive Happiness charges $10 for a ticket that will provide you either 90 minutes of drive-time or up to 40 kilometers of distance. From that $fee, $8 goes back to the driver as reimbursement for fuel and vehicular wear and tear. Maffitt added the other $2 goes back to Volunteer Airdrie to support any additional costs associated with the program.
Liza Bouchard, the executive director of Drive Happiness, said the partnership with Volunteer Airdrie is a positive step forward for the assisted transportation network in Alberta.
“Working off of existing infrastructure, expertise and in collaboration saved and will continue to save resources for our sector,” she said in an email, adding Voluneer Airdrie is a community-minded organization who have worked hard to bring more resources to Airdrie.
“It’s a wonderful program because we’re getting all of their expertise, staff, and resources through a partnership that is very strategic,” Maffitt said. “It’s a big win for Airdrie.”
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