Van more than just handy

Hay River’s handi-van is at

risk of being pulled off the streets

if the organization that runs the

service doesn’t secure additional

funding.

The Hay River Committee for

Persons with Disabilities funds and

operates the community’s handi-van

service, which allows people with

disabilities to attend appointments

and run errands independently.

The handi-van was allotted

$5,000 in this year’s town budget,

on par with similar not-for-profits

such as the Hay River Beautification

Committee and the Hay River

Museum Society.

“It’s going to help, but if we

don’t secure core funding, the van

is not going to run next year,” said

committee president Lillian Crook.

“This year we were lucky. We’ve

had a lot of businesses and individuals

come forward with donations.”

Resembling a giant, mobile

bumper sticker collection, the once

white van is plastered with logos

recognizing the sponsors that have

contributed to the service.

Last year the handy service

received $10,915 in donations, but

approximately $74,000 is required

to run the service every year,

according to Crook. Funds come

from membership fees and client

fares. Rides within the town of

Hay River cost $5, and $20 when it

travels as far as Enterprise. The bus

averages more than 100 pickups per

month with 30 regular and multiple

sporadic clients.

When Crook made a presentation

to Hay River town council

last year, she suggested it look

into using the federal gas tax to

provide financial support for the

service. The tax can be used for

transportation related services in

municipalities.

That’s where the van falls into a

grey area. Technically, the service

is not public transportation because

it is not available to everyone, but

Crook argues it is essential.

“People can get more and more

recluse,” said Crook. “They don’t

want to depend on family members

too much, so they lose their

independence.”

When the handi-van started four

years ago, it was a volunteer run

service. Now, the van is on the

road every day for an entire work

day and at times on call during the

weekend. On Friday afternoon, the

van’s full-time drive, Elise Marie,

was transporting two of her regulars

– Wayne Elleze and Edwyn

Morin. They’ve developed a rapport,

and they banter like siblings.

Throughout the week, the committee’s

office manager, Provina

Bartlett, is all things to all people.

She meets with clients and helps

co-ordinating funding for other

programs such as the Employment

Assistance program. When she’s

not working with people, she’s

scouring the net for funding opportunities

and grants.

The $5,000 from the town will

come this month, but Crook said

those funds will only allow the van

to operate month-by-month.

Crook said the committee’s

trouble securing funds is because

it offers the only handi-bus in

the territory, which makes it difficult

for governments to compare

operating costs with similar

services.

“The problem is that there’s no

other place the service runs in the

NWT,” said Crook. “So if proposals

come out (concerning) people with

disabilities, it doesn’t have anything

to do with transportation.”