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United Church minister cycles for the handibus

Eras Van Zyl will undertake a journey later this month that will help keep the Fort Macleod Handibus on the road.
The Trinity United Church minister will cycle to Kimberly, B.C. from Fort Macleod in a 300-kilometre journey to raise money for the handibus society.
“I haven’t got any particular goal in mind,” Van Zyl said. “I will just rely on the generosity of people.”
Rev. Van Zyl will sponsor himself for $1 per kilometre and is inviting others to contribute whatever they are able in support of the handibus.
Rev. Van Zyl was inspired to help by the ongoing financial struggle faced by the handibus society, which this year did not receive a transportation grant from the Town of Fort Macleod.
Since 1987 the handibus society has received grants from the MD of Willow Creek and Town of Fort Macleod. In 2009 the province eliminated the transportation grants it gave to the municipalities.
While the MD of Willow Creek funded the grant itself to the handibus society, town council did not include it in its budget.
The loss of the grant from the town, which in 2009 was $8,900 — represented a 20 per cent funding cut for the handibus society.
After learning of the cut, Rev. Van Zyl decided to raise some money — and awareness – for the handibus society.
“I don’t think the town can be without it,” Van Zyl said of the handibus, which in 2010 provided residents with 5,946 rides. “I come from a country (South Africa) where they don’t have things like this and people battle along. We should appreciate that we have this kind of service.”
The handibus operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. during summer months. Saturday service from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. commences in mid October and continues until the end of April.
Bus fare is $3 per ride. A $30 bus pass provides for six round trips. A $90 monthly pass entitles the holder to an unlimited number of rides.
Fares cover about 40 per cent of what it costs to keep the bus operating.
The mandate of the Fort Macleod Handibus Society is to help residents maintain their independence in accessing medical appointments, enjoying recreational activities and shopping outings.
“One day we will all need that service,” Rev. Van Zyl said.
Rev. Van Zyl is no stranger to his bicycle, cycling as he does about 60 kilometres every two days on highways in the Fort Macleod area.
Recently he completed a 96-kilometre round trip to Glenwood in four hours and 15 minutes.
Rev. Van Zyl intends to cycle as far as Fernie, B.C. on Wednesday, Sept. 28, with handibus society president David Hughes providing support in his motorhome.
Rev. Van Zyl plans to cycle the rest of the way to Kimberly on Thursday, Sept. 29. If necessary, he will finish the trip on Friday, Sept. 30.
In the event of inclement weather, he will postpone the trip a week.
“It will be a long time in the saddle,” Rev. Van Zyl said. “I’m feeling fairly confident. I’m confident I can handle it. I’m someone who can push himself well.”
Rev. Van Zyl took a ride on the Fort Macleod Handibus recently with driver Don Doherty to gain a better appreciation for the service.
“Just the way he helps people is incredible,” Rev. Van Zyl said of Doherty.
Rev. Van Zyl was alarmed at the way the handibus rattles, and learned there have been problems with the lift and the vehicle’s transmission.
Replacing the handibus could soon be a priority.
Anyone interested in contributing to Rev. Van Zyl’s ride can do so by calling him at 403-553-4967 (home), 403-894-0274 (cell) or 403-553-3072 (church).
“What I want to do is challenge the town,” Rev. Van Zyl said. “I will leave it up to the conscience of each individual in town.”
“It doesn’t have to be a big donation,” Rev. Van Zyl added. “I think it will be worth our while to raise any amount, just to give the handibus society a kick start.”

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