A shuttle bus for North Delta seniors could begin service next year — a move that will provide a much-needed alternative in the transit-starved suburb.
Delta council has applied for a special grant to pay for a new service that would shuttle seniors from the Kennedy Seniors Recreation Centre to anywhere they need to go: grocery stores, doctors’ appointments, visits with local friends and family.
Seniors have particular challenges getting around in North Delta, which doesn’t have the kind of rich bus service that exists elsewhere in the region. That scarcity is even worse for anyone needing special service.
“Many [buses] can’t carry a scooter or wheelchair, and we can’t tell how often those that do will run,” said Franca Babuin, director of volunteers at Kennedy. “Many of our seniors have mobility problems.”
Other organizations had batted around the idea of a shuttle bus.
Kennedy’s board of directors discussed the idea, Babuin said it was not “financially feasible.”
Another group, the community-services organization Deltassist, also identified it as a need in its transportation committee.
“There are more and more seniors in this area. I think the transportation committee was instrumental in putting the suggestion [of a seniors’ bus] ahead to council,” said Margaret Nielsen, who volunteers with Deltassist and sits on the Kennedy board.
The committee completed “a walkability study that identified areas in North Delta where it was difficult for people with a disability to get around,” she said.
Nielsen expects she and her 87-year-old husband will require a seniors’ bus in the near future.
“I mean, people are living longer, so their needs are becoming greater. So, I think that having a seniors’ bus would be a great assistance.”
The project so far
On Nov. 5, The Corporation of Delta approved a staff recommendation to apply for the 2013 Age-Friendly Community Planning & Project Grants through the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ seniors’ housing and support initiative. The grant could provide up to $20,000 to jumpstart the seniors’ bus project.
Steven Lan, Delta’s director of engineering, said seniors need accessible and reliable community transportation.
“We want to provide a service that will help get [seniors] to the Kennedy Seniors Recreation Centre and help get them to their other appointments,” said Lan. “The centre is located quite far away from bus service and TransLink isn’t really readily available for [senior] users. We were looking for an alternate option.”
The Kennedy centre is located on a quiet side street where the closest bus stops are on Nordel Way and Scott Road. The area can be dangerous for pedestrians. According to 2011 Delta police statistics, eight out of the top 10 collision locations in Delta happened at either Nordel Way or Scott Road.
Unlike regular transit service, the proposed seniors’ service will be on-demand.
“The route would be a call-reservation system,” explained Lan. “Someone at the centre would receive the call that they want to be picked up and schedule with the driver to pick them up. Over time, we would have regular customers that determine the routes that could help drivers pick up several seniors.”
Delta seniors usually travel by walking, taking regular buses, getting rides from friends and family or booking trips with TransLink’s HandyDART.
North Vancouver has a seniors’ shuttle bus
The vision for a seniors’ bus is based on the North Shore Seniors Go Bus Program, which is provided by the Silver Harbour Seniors’ Activity Centre.
Annwen Loverin, the centre’s executive director, said that the Go Bus program began in 2006. It was originally designed as a bus-stop program, but now operates 45 trips per day door to door.
“One of the biggest benefits is that seniors can choose what services and locations they want to access,” said Loverin. “In the beginning, we were sticking more to the route…but now it is really based around the regular riders who are coming every week.”
Startup funding for the North Vancouver program came from the same UBCM fund as the one Delta is trying to access now.
The first step is finding funding
Delta estimates the operating costs for a seniors’ bus will be approximately $70,000 per year.
“We hope to work with community groups, business partners and non-profits. But first, we must get funding and then apply for approval from TransLink. There’s lots to explore, but we’re taking advantage of the grant,” said Diana Cousins, a senior policy analyst for Delta.
The UBCM will announce successful candidates for its age-friendly B.C. grant Dec. 21. The shuttle service could be operational by the end of 2013.