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Handibus has served town for quarter of a century

Eras Van Zyl cycling

Eras Van Zyl cycled to Fort Macleod from Kimberley, B.C. to boost fund-raising for the handibus.

March 1987 saw the inception of easily accessible, reliable and ongoing public transportation — in the form of handibus service — for Fort Macleod.
A handful of visionary, community-minded citizens worked diligently to get the first bus on the road. Over the past 25 years many Fort Macleod residents have relied on the handibus to maintain their independence in accessing medical appointments, shopping, enjoying recreational outings and even getting to work and school. The dream of a few has become an essential service for many.
The handibus operates Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during summer months. Thanks to a generous annual donation from the Hospital Ladies Auxiliary, Saturday service from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is available from October through April.
To access a ride call 380-0062 and friendly, accommodating driver, Don Doherty, will arrange a pick-up time. The bus is busy so if a specific time is required, booking ahead would be helpful. A one-way fare is $3 or a 12-ride pass can be purchased for $30. A $90 monthly pass will provide unlimited rides.
The bus presently transporting patrons is 13 years old and has gone over 200,000 kilometres. Down time for repairs indicates that it is growing weary. Fund-raising for a new bus began in September 2011 with Eras Van Zyl cycling from Kimberly to Fort Macleod in support of handibus service. Since then, $77,085.72 has been raised.
Service clubs and community organizations have contributed $37,158.58. Family and individual donations total $14,532.40, while businesses have provided $6,570. The Town of Fort Macleod gave the handibus society $16,824.74 toward bus replacement costs and the MD of Willow Creek provided a $2,000 transportation grant.
With the necessary funding in place, an Arboc “Spirit of Freedom” low floor bus was ordered in June 2012. The new bus chassis was ordered through local GM dealership Scougall Motors. With the chassis built and delivered to Indiana, construction of the body could commence at the Arboc plant.
This bus will have seating for 11 ambulatory passengers with space for three wheelchairs. Two double fold-down seats will accommodate four more ambulatory passengers if wheelchair spaces are not being utilized. The low floor feature enables wheelchair passengers to access the bus by ramp eliminating the need for a lift.
Notice has been received that the new bus should be delivered to Fort Macleod the second week of January 2013. Congratulations Fort Macleod! Generous donations from all sectors of the community have made it possible for the handibus society to order a unit designed to meet the needs of Fort Macleod residents now and into the future.
On July 31, 2012 the annual meeting for the handibus society was held in the Willow Room of Pioneer Lodge. Election of officers saw the existing executive and directors returned to their positions: president David Hughes, vice-president Greg Guyn, treasurer Kim Herter and secretary Linda Ripley. Directors are Bill Ayotte, Bob Gunn, Bruce Robertson and Bob Ripley.
A summary of revenues and expenses over the past seven years was reviewed. Contributions to handibus operations broken down into percentages are as follows: 29.1 per cent from user fees, 29 per cent from donations (individuals, businesses, organizations and memorials), 20.8 per cent of revenue from casinos, 15 per cent from the Town of Fort Macleod transportation grant and three per cent from the MD of Willow Creek transportation grant.
In 2011 the Town of Fort Macleod gave no financial support to the handibus through grant money, stating that the province of Alberta no longer provided the town with a transportation grant. The town’s 2012 budget included $6,000 for the handibus society to defer operating costs.
Summary of revenues shows that without stable, ongoing funding from the town it would be impossible for the handibus society to budget for bus replacement every 12 to 15 years. All administration of handibus operations is done through volunteer hours. The only paid employees are the drivers.
Use of the handibus has increased steadily over the years. Don Doherty and substitute drivers Dave Matlock and Joe Hamacher were busy boys in 2011! A total of 6,232 rides were taken by handibus patrons; of those trips, 820 were by wheelchair users.
The wheels on the bus keep going round and round thanks to generous support from the entire community.
It will be exciting to see the new bus on the road in January 2013. The handibus, providing convenient, affordable and reliable transportation, has benefited citizens of Fort Macleod for 25 years. With ongoing support from municipal governments, organizations, businesses and individuals this valued service will continue to meet the needs of our community.