South Peace councils consider starting regional handi-bus service

·3 min read

South Peace communities are considering re-opening discussions to establish a regional handi-bus service.

Wembley mayor Chris Turnmire sent out letters to councils in neighbouring municipalities inquiring about the interest in returning to the project, which was put on hold two years ago.

“The focus was to identify opportunities to improve mobility options primarily for seniors and disabled residents to attend to basic needs, including medical and dental appointments,” Turnmire said.

In 2017 Wembley applied to the Alberta Community Partnership program and won a grant of $67,500 to study the feasibility of a regional service.

The town partnered with Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, Hythe and the city and county of Grande Prairie in the project, Turnmire said.

Wembley and its partners then contracted Watt Consulting Group to conduct the study.

Turnmire said $61,324 was spent on the study and the remainder was refunded to the Alberta government.

In 2018 municipal councils decided to put the project on hold due to the launch of the County Connector, he said.

The county-based transit service had space for wheelchairs but ended in August due to low ridership.

“A regional handi-bus service would have a different focus,” Turnmire said.

“This isn’t a money-making project; this is a service to individuals who may not have access to transportation to get to appointments or other places they need to go.

“I suspect it’s going to have a cost attached to it, that each municipality would have to look at and (determine) what the proportional share would be.”

In early November South Peace mayors and CAOs attended an intermunicipal meeting and the leaders discussed possibly renewing handi-bus talks, he said.

None of the mayors rejected the idea outright and due to Wembley’s lead in the project two years ago, it was decided Turnmire would write a letter to all councils, he said.

Early work completed

In April 2018 Watt Consulting Group held an open house in Beaverlodge discussing plans for a regional handi-bus.

The draft policy presented in 2018 called for a round trip running two days per week.

Under the program, the bus would travel along the western and northern corridors connecting the city to each town and village, along with Clairmont, La Glace and Valhalla.

Plans may change

If the councils decide to re-open the possibility of a regional handi-bus, Turnmire said some of the 2018 plans for the service may change.

The councils would establish a working group, with each appointing a councillor or staff member to re-examine the study, he said.

Turnmire said with council meetings slowing down during December, he doesn’t expect the working group would be established until after the new year.

Some of the municipalities have existing handi-bus services, and Turnmire said the working group would also have to consider how to avoid duplication of service and keep things efficient.

COVID-19 poses another question as to how service will be affected if the health crisis is still ongoing, Turnmire added.

During a recent regular meeting last week Sexsmith council approved Coun. Jonathan Siggelkow’s motion to express interest in the project.

At Beaverlodge council’s last meeting Coun. Terry Dueck expressed interest in representing the town in the group.

Mayor Gary Rycroft said joining the working group would allow for an exploration of various considerations.

Coun. Judy Kokotilo-Bekkerus’ motion to express interest was carried.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News