For the Lakeside Leader
Big Lakes County FCSS now has a bus to call its own.
The county’s Family and Community Support Services unveiled its 12-passenger unit on Oct. 10. It will hit the road in 2019. An exact date has not been set.
The bus was purchased by the county for about $85,000. It has space for two wheelchairs and will be used to transport residents to appointments locally and to Grande Prairie.
“We want to make it accessible and useful for everyone,” says FCSS manager Louise Myre. “A community assessment completed in 2015 indicated that such a program would be well received.”
Although medical appointments will take priority, residents will also be able to use the program for getting mail and groceries, as well as social activities.
The new bus replaces a pilot program started in 2017, in which FCSS contracted the use of a van owned by the High Prairie Golden Age Club. However, the program stopped about a year ago, since the van was permitted to carry only seniors and was not allowed on rural roads.
About three trips a week will be scheduled for High Prairie for medical appointments and other necessities, although that could change based on demand.
The bus will make a trip to Grande Prairie once a month. A return trip to High Prairie will be $20, while the rate to Grande Prairie will be $40.
Myre says the trips to GP leave from High Prairie, “so residents will have to either find transportation in, or we may look at establishing a shuttle system from the hamlets and outlying areas.”
However, for local trips to High Prairie, the bus will pick up county residents from their homes.
FCSS introduced the service to meet the needs that many local residents face not having transport to medical appointments in High Prairie and Grande Prairie.
In 2016, FCSS received a University of Alberta Medically-at-Risk Drivers grant for $34,000, which included $24,000 in-kind assistance and $10,000 cash to help start a rural transportation system. Myre says the county will be working with the U of A as the program develops.
Left-right are Big Lakes County Reeve Richard Simard, FCSS manager Louise Myre, FCSS High Prairie outreach worker Nancy Marquardt and South Sunset House – Gilwood Councillor Ann Stewart, county FCSS representative.