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Handi bus to reconsider Cochrane service levels

Rocky View Regional Handi Bus Society General Manager Paul Siller is expressing concern with the Town of Cochrane’s draft budget allocating less money than requested.
Rocky View Regional Handi Bus Society General Manager Paul Siller is concerned funding for the Handi Bus service in Cochrane won’t sustain the level of service
Rocky View Regional Handi Bus Society General Manager Paul Siller is concerned funding for the Handi Bus service in Cochrane won’t sustain the level of service Cochranites rely on.

Rocky View Regional Handi Bus Society General Manager Paul Siller is expressing concern with the Town of Cochrane’s draft budget allocating less money than requested.

The society made a grant request of just more than $143,000, but the budget proposes around $120,000 – almost 17 per cent less.

“We won’t be cutting service tomorrow but I’m worried this is going to have medium-term impact on whether we can provide service to Cochrane,” Paul Siller said.

Siller said he’s unsure of exactly how service would be impacted but indicated the smaller amount could have farther-reaching implications. He maintained that other communities in the society – Rocky View County, Crossfield, Carstairs, Irricana, Beiseker and Chestermere – might put pressure on the society to reconsider providing service to Cochrane.

“What we actually get is several regional partners who all think that they’re paying equally. However, one of the partners isn’t and where that will have an impact is when those funders start saying ‘how come so-and-so isn’t paying in full?’”

The society has set the target of $6.20 per-capita across the board for communities for 2016. The Town of Cochrane’s draft budget proposes keeping the $5.20 per-capita rate in the face of 11 per cent population growth.

“While the Handi Bus has requested more, administratively we’re just recommending that 11 per cent to account for the growth in community increasing their funding based on that,” said Suzanne Gaida, Town of Cochrane’s senior manager of community services.

From 2014 to 2015, Cochrane grew from 20,708 people to 23,084.

She pointed out the funding number is a recommendation and that council will ultimately decide whether to implement it or not.

According to information provided by the Handi Bus Society, Cochrane residents made up 30 per cent of total rides (2,300 trips out of 6,900) for the first nine months of 2015. Out of 750 registered riders, 345 are from Cochrane.

The Town has contributed around $107,682 for this year – the second-highest out of the communities covered by the society. The service saw a 22 per cent increase overall in passenger registration from September 2014 to September 2015, with a 17 per cent jump in registered riders in Cochrane.

Pamela Luscombe’s daughter Megan, who is visually impaired, uses the service around 20 times a month to travel to and from Mount Royal University. Before signing on to the service, Pamela said she and her husband were the sole source of transportation.

“With the service, it has opened our lives up and her independence up tremendously. You can imagine how she would feel if she’d have to revert back.”

Marilyn Woody’s son Tyler, living with schizophrenia, requires the service to get to Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary to receive treatment twice a week.

“I don’t know what I’d do without it. I just can’t uproot him, and my other children live in Cochrane, so I really don’t want to move to the city.”

Marion Whitley, an elderly resident of Evergreen Manor who is confined to a wheelchair, said she uses the service twice a week and doesn’t have another option.

“I don’t know what I’d do; I have no other way of getting around.”

Siller said he doesn’t want to raise undue alarm but said there’s no easy fix if Cochrane doesn’t meet its funding requirements.

“I don’t want to say the sky is falling but I am concerned that people don’t realize that we can’t carry municipalities for the service,” he said. “We need all the players to shoot for the same net.”

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