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Demand for Urban/Rural Rides services growing

By Tara Clow May 29, 2024 | 2:12 PM

Ten years ago, programs like Urban/Rural Rides were at risk of shutting down.

They’ve come a long way since then.  They’re being given more life and are advancing with up to $2 million over four years from the Regional Development Corporation.

“It’s a big step forward for transportation for all New Brunswickers when we get to a point where the province is recognizing the necessity, especially for the people in the province that are most vulnerable. For our seniors and our low-income families, lack of transportation really is a barrier to equity to access to services,” Executive Director Kelly Taylor says.

Urban/Rural Rides is available in five regions of the province.  The Southeast, Capitol region, Fundy, Northwest and the Western Valley region. There are also seven regional service commissions that either operate their own volunteer drive programs or have an independent non-profit that is similar.

It provides transportation to seniors and low-income New Brunswickers to things including medical appointments, recreational activities and shopping.

“It’s cost effective, and it’s great for the community because people are connecting with each other. Our clients get to spend time in the vehicle with a friendly person who’s having a conversation with them, which has a far greater impact on that person than just getting to their appointment. They’ve made a human connection and somebody cares about them. They recognize that these people care because they’re giving up their time to help and they’re getting access to services that they need,” Taylor says.

Urban/Rural rides currently has around 100 volunteers, but Taylor say she would like to see two to three times more than that in an effort to meet the needs.

“The need continues to grow, because our population is aging, and things are becoming more and more expensive. It’s difficult for people to keep up with having their own transportation. At some point they have to make a choice. Do I keep a car, or do I look for an alternative form of transportation so I can pay my bills?”

Urban/Rural rides is currently recruiting to serve the 250 clients across the province. Taylor says the time commitment is minimal.

“We work around the schedule of our volunteers. You can volunteer as much or as little as you want. It could be one afternoon a week or a few hours a month. The way it works is when we have a request for a ride, we check a volunteer who lives close to that person. If they’re available and they can do the ride, great. If not, we just go onto the next volunteer, so there’s never any pressure.”

Demand for services is growing, with up to 12 new clients a week in areas like Southeast New Brunswick, and Taylor says other areas are getting close to that. She adds that the Northwest is really busy.

The $2 million will be used to create a provincial dispatch platform for its volunteer driver programs and other transportation initiatives.

“There’s two other elements that will roll out down the road. A driver App, which will allow the drivers to use a smartphone or a tablet. It’ll give them turn-by-turn directions on how to get to the client. It also tracks mileage for them.  It’ll streamline that communication process as well. The third element is the Rider App. Eventually there will be an option for riders to have that App where they can request their rides through the App and then see their drivers approaching.”

Taylor adds this will also allow them to work with other regions easier because they will all be using the same platform. That will allow cross region participation and cooperation, and more collaboration.