Seniors and those with mobility challenges will have a shiny new way to get around town.
The Community Assistance Bus, formerly the Handi-bus, hit the streets last week, fully decked in splashy Town of Westlock and Rotary Club decals.
Just a few days before on Feb. 10, Wayne Hackie and son Ryan cranked up the heat in the town’s old recycling shop to lay on the graphics before the big debut.
“It took 12 man hours to put on the decaling,” Wayne said.
After more than two years of driving the old bus, bus driver Laura Turner was happy sitting behind the wheel of her new ride.
“It’s so different,” she said. “With the new bus, people are hearing about it and they know they can get on. It’s easily accessible to get on — I know that was some of the comments. A lot of the seniors couldn’t handle the stairs because of their knees. With walkers, they can just walk up.”
The 15-passenger bus now has airbags and a ramp directly from the sidewalk, so no more stairs. The wheelchair lift in the back is also gone, and the two wheelchair-accessible spots have been moved to the front.
“It was really rough in the back, so now it’s a smooth ride — and warm,” she added. “It was so old that they were constantly fixing it but it just wasn’t doing it anymore.”
The old diesel-powered bus was purchased 10 or 11 years ago and had racked up almost 123,500 kilometres.
Last October, The Rotary Club donated $75,000 for the new bus to mark the Town of Westlock’s 100 for 100 Centennial. Director of community services Mike Butler said that without the price for the graphics, the bus cost $169,000.
He noted that in 2016, the bus travelled 10,520 kilometres and had 2,735 passengers, averaging 70 kilometres a day and 230 passengers per month.
The bus transports seniors, the disabled and those with mobility issues to their appointments in the town on weekdays. If a passenger is looking for a ride, they call Turner to book a time for pick up.
“Say if they have a doctors appointment next Tuesday, they’ll phone as soon they know what time their appointment is and they’ll book the bus,” she said. “I like to be there a half an hour before their appointment to take them, so we have lots of time to get here and drop them off.”
She said many clients book the same day as their appointment, but she preferred they book ahead, although anyone can get on.
“If they’re at the hospital and I’m dropping someone off and you want to go down, say the lodge or back to the lodge, I’ll take you.”
The bus costs $6.50 a trip or $13 roundtrip. Clients can also buy a 10-trip pass for $65. Those can be purchased on the bus or at the town office. The bus accepts cash or cheque, but the town office will also accept debit and credit.
Mondays and Fridays are typically the busiest days because everyone is heading to the bank or their appointments, Turner noted.
During the week, ridership fluctuates from 10 to 24 people daily.
On a busy day, regulars make up about eight of those.
But the future could see that number grow.
“We’re looking at expanding service,” Butler said, noting that the old bus was used to pick up passengers for special events, including during the Boston Pizza Cup.
“Now that we have the new bus, I want to open it up to the community, not just seniors and people with disabilities or mobility issues,” she said. “Say a stay-at-home mom wants to go grocery shopping. She can come on with her child and we’ll take her there and take her back.”