New Brunswick

Ride service to help seniors in rural areas near Fredericton

A volunteer ride service will provide transportation for seniors in rural areas surrounding Fredericton, so they can get to doctor's appointments and tend to other necessities.

Urban/Rural Ride looking for more volunteers for expanded operation

Urban/Rural Rides, a volunteer service that's been operating in southeast New Brunswick for eight years, has expanded to Fredericton. Volunteers and community organizers met for a celebration launch on Tuesday morning, including Susanne White (centre) and Kelly Taylor (third from the left). (Submitted)

A volunteer ride service will provide transportation for seniors in rural areas surrounding Fredericton.

Urban/Rural Ride, which has been operating in southeast New Brunswick for eight years, has expanded to Cambridge-Narrows, Hanwell, Kingsclear and Oromocto.

The goal of the service, which offers reduced rates for people who have low incomes, is to help seniors tend to essential needs, such as attending medical appointments or going to food banks.

A few factors contribute to the need for such a service, said Kelly Taylor, executive manager of Urban/Rural Ride.

"When you age, sometimes you are not able to drive anymore because of health reasons, or you don't feel comfortable driving, or you don't have the financial means to continue to operate a vehicle," she said.

Seniors in rural areas who don't have access to transportation may be forced to move into urban centres, which can disconnect them from what's familiar.

Many of Urban/Rural Ride's clients are widows who relied on their husbands for transportation and never had driver's licences.

For the Fredericton-area communities, 16 volunteer drivers have signed up so far, and eight seniors have registered as clients. 

Taylor said more volunteer drivers, who are compensated for their mileage, are always needed.

Pandemic affected service

Before the pandemic, Urban/Rural Ride was providing 10,000 rides a year with about 70 volunteer drivers, she said.  Now, that's down to about 6,000 rides with around 35 volunteer drivers. 

Because of that, the service is only offering rides for essential needs at this time, though Taylor said the goal is to eventually return to the pre-pandemic setup, when users could book rides for activities such as shopping or seeing a hairstylist.

"We're always teetering on the edge of having to say no, but really stretching our volunteers to kind of meet that need," Taylor said. "But we absolutely need more volunteer drivers in this region and the Fredericton area."

Greater Fredericton Social Innovation, a registered charity that works with community organizations to reduce poverty, receives provincial funding that will help support Urban/Rural's operations in Fredericton.

Service will expand to other groups

Susanne White, the charity's co-ordinator for community inclusion, said it was in charge of finding the volunteer drivers. It worked with different community organizations to find what she called "champions," or well-connected people who could help recruit volunteers.

She was able to meet some of the volunteers at the program's launch event on Tuesday.

"Some of them have been involved with some other programs like Meals on Wheels, so they already have those connections with seniors, they already know of people in the community that need this kind of help."

While the service is starting with seniors in Fredericton, White said the plan is to expand to other groups, such as low-income families, who need transportation support.

In the meantime, seniors, who may be living on social assistance or small pensions, especially need help accessing transportation, she said.

"Rents are rising, the cost of food is rising, the cost of heating your homes is rising. So their fixed incomes are getting squeezed tighter, and tighter, and tighter."

The ride service, she added, is about more than just getting someone from Point A to Point B. The conversations along the way can turn into relationships between the drivers and clients, White said, helping seniors who may feel lonely.

"Through this drive service, they start to appreciate that maybe there are some people out there in the community that care and are willing to give their own personal time to help them out."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raechel Huizinga

Writer and social media presenter

Raechel Huizinga is a CBC writer and acting Social Media Presenter based in Moncton, New Brunswick. You can reach her at raechel.huizinga@cbc.ca.

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