By Eric Bourque
A local transportation service that was launched 14 years ago and has grown to five vehicles – and may soon add a sixth one – seems to remain relatively unknown, says a spokesperson for the program.
Linda Vickery, coordinator of the HOPE Dial-a-Ride service in Yarmouth, says getting the word out about the program continues to be a challenge.
“The service is there,” she said. “The service is needed, but nobody seems to know about it.”
She acknowledges that the cost of the service is an issue too, but she says a partnership approach involving municipal units and the business community could make it more affordable to more people.
Established in 1999 as a pilot project, the Yarmouth Dial-a-Ride service today consists of three wheelchair-accessible vans and a two passenger vehicles and Vickery says HOPE should know soon whether a sixth vehicle – another wheelchair accessible one – will be added to the fleet. A new van perhaps could be in place as early as September, she says, provided an application for funding from the province is approved.
The Dial-a-Ride service is not as busy during the summer, when school is out, but generally things are pretty steady, Vickery says.
“I’ve been coordinator now for six years and I was a driver prior to (that),” she said. “When I was driving, we had one passenger van and two wheelchair vans … Now we’ve got the five vans.”
Vickery is particularly interested in raising the profile of Dial-a-Ride in the municipalities of Yarmouth and Argyle, where the service – contrary to what many seem to think – is not just for people with disabilities.
“(In) the Municipality of Yarmouth and the Municipality of Argyle, we’re open to everybody,” she said. “We can serve anybody, whether they have a disability or whether they don’t.”
She notes that it’s a different situation in the town, but in the county Dial-a-Ride is for anyone.
“They see our vans out there, but they automatically assume, because it’s a wheelchair accessible van, that it’s only for people with disabilities,” Vickery said.
The Yarmouth service is not alone in this regard, she says, adding that Dial-a-Ride programs across the province have the same problem. (There are 14 Dial-a-Ride services in Nova Scotia and more on the way, Vickery says.)
A couple of years ago, when the Yarmouth service unveiled its latest vehicle, Vickery said they would like to see more public awareness about the Dial-a-Ride program in the county. Asked whether much progress has been made since then in spreading the word, she said, “It’s still a struggle.”
As far as the cost of the service is concerned, she admits this is an issue but says it could be addressed with support from local government and the private sector. There could be advertising opportunities for businesses – and at not much expense to them, she says – if they were willing to contribute to the program and help make it more affordable to the people who could use it.
“You have to get businesses out there to sponsor you,” she said. “You have to get the municipalities behind you … It’s just a matter of getting everybody on the same page and everybody working together.”
Vickery says she is doing what she can to promote the service and that she is willing to talk to anyone about it.
“We’ve got to get something going,” she said, “because I think there’s too many people in the Municipality of Argyle and the Municipality of Yarmouth sitting in their homes because they’ve got no way to get out, and to me that’s sad.”