Organizations like Rocky View Regional Handibus Society will be shown some much-deserved love from Nov. 8 to 12, during the inaugural Accessibility Driver Appreciation Week.
The week-long recognition was put together by the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities (VAD) and the Alberta Ability Network – two organizations that advocate for people with disabilities province-wide. According to the two organizations' respective websites, the purpose of Accessibility Driver Appreciation Week is to show appreciation for drivers and dispatchers who provide subsidized transportation to seniors and people with disabilities.
On their website, VAD says they want to increase the public’s awareness about the need for and support of accessible transportation in Alberta, as well as advocate for funding increases, driver training programs, and better overall service delivery.
“There’s not really a professional, governing bodies for all these agencies to work together, so it’s kind of remarkable a disability advocacy group stepped up and said, ‘Well done, ladies and gentlemen.’”
Operating throughout Rocky View County, Cochrane, Chestermere and Crossfield, Rocky View Regional Handibus Society (also known as Rocky View Bus) is a registered charity that provides transportation to seniors and people with disabilities, whether it’s to medical appointments, grocery stores or community support agencies.
The charity has a fleet of 19 buses, and prior to the pandemic, was averaging more than 130 trips a day.
“There are around 75 little groups or agencies who do this kind of thing,” Siller said. “The VAD organization may have more specific numbers, but from Athabasca to Bragg Creek, there are always a few people who need a bit of extra help to get to community supports.”
According to Siller, the COVID-19 pandemic decimated Rocky View Bus’ ridership. In 2020, he said many of the society’s drivers had to be furloughed, as Rocky View Bus was operating at just 25 per cent of its pre-pandemic ridership.
These days, Siller said demand has somewhat rebounded, thanks to the reopening of various programs and services. While ridership is still down compared to pre-pandemic numbers, he said Rocky View Bus is currently operating at about 55 per cent of its previous demand.
That means about three-quarters of Rocky View Bus drivers are back to work, he added.
“COVID hasn’t gone away. We still have a significant drop in bookings, but our drop in bookings is less than last year,” he said.
“Things are starting to open up and programs are coming back. In our line of work, you don’t take people for the heck of it – they have to go somewhere. We’re thinking by January, February, we’ll be back to [75 per cent of what we were] pre-COVID as things slowly get back to the way things used to be.”
Siller added he is pleased to see a week created to show appreciation for the drivers who “make or break” the accessibility transportation industry. He added he hopes it will increase awareness of the sector's importance, as well.
“I hope so, because in places like Calgary, someone may know someone who uses a transit service, but when you get into [smaller populated] places like Rocky View County, there are still families that don’t know we do this kind of stuff, like in Bearspaw or Bragg Creek,” he said.
“We could be transporting their neighbour and they didn’t know it, or maybe they saw our bus but didn’t know what the bus was for. It’s nice of this agency to do something on this provincial scale, as it’s not even their original mandate.”