By JAYMIE L. WHITE
BAY ST. GEORGE – A new Bay St. George Extended Seniors Transportation (BEST) bus will soon be circulating in the community.
Modelled after the CREST Bus program in Clarenville, and with the concept of age-friendly communities in mind, the BEST Bus will offer two dollar trips for seniors and individuals 25 and older needing wheelchair accessibility in Stephenville, Kippens, Port au Port East, Stephenville Crossing, St. George’s and all points in between.
Mayor Tom Rose said the process began when their second application for a provincial grant was approved.
“We received a $100,000 grant from the provincial government that gave us the ability to buy a brand new 12-passenger bus that was wheelchair accessible,” said Rose. “With COVID it slowed the process of getting the committee structured, getting volunteers arranged, getting drivers certified and trained. We are about a year behind, but we got rolling and what we did is we collaborated with other communities and made it regional.”
Mayor Rose said the idea is to offer affordable transportation for residents around the region.
“The goal was to make it affordable, so that anybody that met the requirements can go anywhere from Port au Port East to St. George’s for appointments, grocery shopping, to visit a loved one, and it will cost you only a toonie,” said Rose.
Michael McCann, chair of the BEST Committee and councillor with the Town of Port au Port East said this initiative holds special meaning for him.
“My father was in long term care for approximately nine years, and he passed away there at 94 years young. He always wanted to travel, but being very independent didn’t like the costs associated with it. This meant he didn’t travel as much as he would have preferred. In short, with BEST he would have gone out more,” said McCann.
McCann said the concept of the ‘age-friendly community’ ensures everyone, especially seniors and those with disabilities, feel valued and recognized.
“An age-friendly community is a place where we can live active lives longer as a group. Stay living in our homes longer, go wherever we want to go whenever we want, being valued and respected and contribute more by getting the chance to get out in the community,” said McCann.
McCann said that the thought of helping seniors, especially since we are all going to be seniors one day, makes all the long hours worth it.
“Our partners are what is moving us forward. We put their logo, if they are inclined to have it on our bus, as a display of partnership. In exchange for that, we are given funds to help operate,” said McCann.
McCann said that COVID has created many challenges that have made getting the program launched all the more difficult.
“Because the fallout from COVID is nowhere near gone, for a volunteer non-profit organization it is really challenging,” said McCann, “You look at something as simple as our need for drivers to get a medical appointment. It is like pulling teeth. We have volunteers waiting months and are still waiting to get a medical. In order to get a Class 4 commercial driver’s license you need a medical in order to write the test.”
McCann said that he has an immeasurable appreciation for the volunteers they have and the support they have received
“We are very thankful for the volunteers we do have and partners. I hope we can build our volunteer base so we can lessen the impact on them because, when you only have a handful of volunteers, it can be really hard to keep the motivation up,” said McCann. “At the same time, the project is such an honourable and beautiful thing, the majority of the people that we are dealing with see that and embrace it and we move forward.”
The BEST committee has a mission to provide opportunities to improve quality of life, wellness, and optimal health. At the same time they aim to promote feelings of safety and allow for opportunities for community engagement.
“It will open a lot of doors for our seniors,” said McCann.
The plan is to begin with a ‘soft launch’ where the bus will operate one day a week based on volunteer availability. Bookings must be made the day before you travel and are accepted as far as 60 days in advance. They will only be running one random day a week due to volunteer availability in the beginning. A meet and greet was scheduled for Sept. 16; however, it has been rescheduled for early October. A specific date should be announced soon.
McCann understands there may be frustrations with the delays, but promises everyone is working as hard as possible to get things going.
“The BEST Board is working hours and hours to make this happen as fast as we can. The amount of work that our board has done in the last year defines BEST,” said McCann. “At the same time, I can certainly realize why our seniors and people with mobility issues are very anxious to get this moving, but we ask for patience, and we ask any seniors or anybody who can volunteer and give us a day a month, we are willing to train them and get them on board in exchange for that day.”
To volunteer, contact the bookings number at (709) 283-3017 between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. BEST is currently looking for drivers, driver assistants and booking staff.