Chamber members hear from shuttle service

January 29, 2024, 10:15 am
Ryan Kiedrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Al Sutherland of Gravelbourg Cares spoke during last week’s Chamber meeting, explaining how their shuttle program has worked since 2018.

As is the case with so many worthwhile endeavours, the Gravelbourg Cares shuttle program all began in order to fill a recognized gap in their community.

“Our organization started because there was a need. And that need came about as a lack of transportation—especially for people that are in need of medical appointments outside of our town, specialist appointments primarily, but not exclusively. We’ll cater to anyone who has any sort of a medical need, whether it’s optometry, dentistry, cancer treatments,” explained Al Sutherland, one of the volunteers behind Gravelbourg Cares.

The shuttle service formed in 2018 in response to the shutting down of the STC bus line, and the rubber first hit the road in July the following year. Since then, they’ve put 196,000 km on their first vehicle (a Ford 1500 transit van, now retired) and 16,000 km on their current ride—a Hyundai Tucson hybrid obtained this past September.

Sutherland was invited to speak at the Moosomin Chamber of Commerce meeting last week as Moosomin Age Friendly is highly keen on repeating the successful operation in Moosomin.

“I’m trying to give you the idea of how this can be transplanted in your community,” Sutherland said. “So you’re going to find that there are definitely going to be challenges, you’re going to have limited funding and sometimes you’re going to have driver shortages. We’ve never had to say no to anyone because of a shortage of drivers.”

As cited in Gravelbourg, a similar need to transport for out-of-town medical appointments has been identified in Moosomin.

“It’s a very well-utilized program in their community,” said Devona Putland, Chair of the Moosomin Age Friendly group. “He also gave me a sense of comparison between Gravelbourg and Moosomin. We can see the age demographic comparison and the population. We’re almost between two-and-a-half to three times bigger in a lot of the areas that are compared and that means that we should be able to support a program like that.”

In the same ‘all you need is a dream’ line of thinking, Gravelbourg Cares launched their program with a $3,000 start-up grant from their town council and those of surrounding communities.

“They started with a lot of hope and a very small amount of money and made it happen,” Putland said.

Sutherland provided the Moosomin group with a 100-page U of S study that examined Gravelbourg Cares—effectively creating a blueprint for establishing a similar service basically anywhere. Combined with the exuberance of Gravelbourg Cares to share what worked on the other side of southern Saskatchewan, the winning formula is easy to replicate.

“Our first vehicle was what we sort of thought of as being the one that would fit the bill in our imagination,” Sutherland explained. “We found out along the line that it was a little bigger than what we needed.”

Their second vehicle, a hybrid SUV, came by way of a $100,000 monetary injection from the federal government, which covered 80 per cent of the purchase price.

“About 80 per cent of the clients, 90 per cent of the clients are going to Moose Jaw/Regina. Occasionally to Swift Current and occasionally in Saskatoon,” Sutherland explained, adding that the shuttle serves communities within a 45-minute radius.

Can what Gravelbourg Cares does actually be customized for Moosomin and area residents? That and other questions will be on the minds of Age Friendly board members from now until their next meeting in March.

“We’re going to be scoping out what kinds of things do we need to do if we’re going to pursue this and one of the things is the charitable status, because that’s the thing that’s going to make something like this viable,” Putland said. “We’ve been looking at different possibilities. We know that we’re going to rely on our business community and our local people to probably help with some kind of funding or legwork or helping us along the way with things. And we definitely want our customers not to suffer because of this.”

Beyond offering a ride to make specialist appointments, Putland sees a much greater purpose in the future.

“It’s to keep people living here,” she said. “Seniors have a lot of income to spend and if they have to move to Regina, our town is missing out. So by keeping it here, businesses will benefit in keeping our population up there. But as well, we have to recognize that we have to support our businesses.”