New transportation network will supply rides in rural areas

Going to the grocery store, getting to the doctor, heading off to work – for many people those are everyday tasks done without a thought to getting there and back.
But for many, speci­fi­cally low income peo­ple, seni­ors, or those with disa­bilities, transportation can be a daily chal­lenge. For them, it can take days to arrange the “to” and “from” for the most routine tasks.
Those days, though, might soon be ending in rural Wellington County.
Creating a solu­tion that will meet those needs and provide transportation for those in the health and social services sector has been a long-term goal for many in the county.
Service providers from across rural Wellington are now working collaboratively under the name Wellington Transpor­tation Services, offering trans­portation support to people with­out adequate access to oth­er transportation. That in­cludes families and indivi­du­als with incomes below $38,000 for a family of four, seniors, or adults with disabi­lities.
Jennifer Hammond is the coordinator of the program that could see free transportation for many people at no cost. She said the service could be used for medical appointments, shop­ping, visiting a bank, or even visiting friends.
Member organizations of Wellington Transpor­ta­tion Ser­vices include The Community Resource Centre of North and Centre Wellington, VON Com­munity Support Services, EWAG, Fergus-Elora Senior Trans, North Wellington Sen­iors Council, CReATE Arthur, Palmerston, and Harriston.
Hammond said the central registry telephone service is now running, and people who need the service can simply call and become registered.
For in­formation on eligi­bility to re­ceive service, call the central access referral and information line toll free at 1-866-694-9562. Staff there will ask a few questions before referring callers to a service provider best suited to meet their needs.
Hammond said in many communities, there are small groups that provide some trans­portation services, but many of them are overwhelmed by the de­mand for the service.
She said the new group can make referrals, but the central registry can also fill “the gap” in services if smaller groups are unable to help because they are already too busy.
Member organizations of the Rural Welling­ton Trans­portation Group include: The County of Wellington Social Services Department, Welling­ton-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, VON Community Sup­port Services, and The Com­munity Resource Centre of North and Centre Wellington.
The phone line is also for service providers seeking sup­port for clients or patients. Infor­mation regarding  trans­portation services from across rural Wellington is managed through that central access point. 
The registry has all come from the work that reopened the trans­portation dialogue three years ago through the Rural Welling­ton Transpor­tation Group.  Since that time many organi­zations have been brain­storm­ing count­less ideas and working to build on the strengths of pre­vious models.
The Rural Wellington Trans­­­portation Group obtained fund­ing from the Ontario Tril­lium Foundation to undertake an 18-month pro­gram devel­opment project.
The Com­munity Re­source Centre of North and Cen­tre Wellington, acting as the lead agency for the project, has been working since June on the de­velopment of a sustain­able, volunteer-based trans­por­ta­tion program.
The program is designed to build on the current volunteer based transportation system, utilizing the expertise of exist­ing transportation providers while making transportation ser­vices easier to access for those who need them.
As well, expanding the system capacity to better manage increased de­mand for service is a critical element.
Hammond said the central registry also allows the group to do volunteer training in larger groups. She said some organizations need only a few volunteers a year, and training is often lacking.
With the central registry, the network can train a larger number of people for various organizations.
Hammond also noted that while volunteers provide their time to give transportation, they do get paid a fee for their mileage.
She said Wellington County has provided long term funding for the toll free phone number, and there will be other fund­raising efforts to keep the entire system operational after the Trillium funds run out.