A new transportation service has quietly launched in Chatham-Kent.
Thanks to a provincial grant, adVANtage Transportation Service is on the road. A partnership between the municipality and Family Service Kent, adVANtage is earmarked to fill transportation gaps.
Jyl Panjer, manager of community support services for Family Service Kent, said adVANtage has been in the planning stages for the past 18 months.
“People from the municipality and Family Service Kent applied for a grant from the province to address gaps in the municipality in terms of transportation,” she said. “We received approval about the end of January. We rolled it out April 1 as a small pilot project.”
The adVANtage program’s van can hold seven walk-on passengers, or two passengers in wheelchairs.
It is a door-to-door service, with pick up and drop off at specific addresses, rather than bus stops.
“We operate on a GPS-driven database, driving on the most efficient routes to keep costs down,” Panjer said.
Panjer said the service is needed because of gaps in other public transportation options.
“We have public transit in Chatham and inter-urban in Chatham-Kent, but with limited time frames,” she said. “With this program, we are hoping to fill the gap for others in our community, regardless of accessibility needs.”
Payment is made on a sliding scale, but also includes ability-to-pay factors. Those factors, Panjer said, are based on low-income cutoff measures the province and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) currently employ.
As a result, rates are between 40 cents and 80 cents per kilometre.
“For the clients we’ve served so far, it’s worked out very well. It has been heavily utilized,” Panjer said.
This week alone, she estimates there will be upwards of 30 users.
So far, adVANtage is only at the pilot stage. Panjer said they are only accepting referrals from ODSP, Ontario Works, and the Children’s Treatment Centre of Chatham-Kent.
“We’re operating all over Chatham-Kent, but we only have one vehicle, so we can only be in so many places at once,” she said. “Plus we are rolling it out slowly to make sure we can work out all the kinks before it goes larger.”
Panjer said the project will be available to the general public by July.
Eligible residents can use the transportation service for a variety of needs ranging from drives to appointments and social activities or to be linked to pre-existing transportation services within Chatham-Kent such as the bus or VIA Rail.
As for when the program goes public, Panjer said she hopes to have secured a second vehicle, but added nothing is finalized at the moment.
Family Service Kent also runs the CHAP (Community Home-Support Assisting People) program for adults 18 and over with a disability, as well as for seniors aged 60 and over.
It too, is a paid door-to-door service.
Panjer said with this being a rural municipality, getting from one place to another for someone without a vehicle can be challenging.
Through this four-year project, Family Service Kent seeks to reduce social isolation and improve quality of life for Chatham-Kent residents who do not currently qualify for, or are presently underserved by, existing transit options in the municipality.
The more barriers a person faces, the more likely they are to be excluded from activities and opportunities, according to Family Service Kent officials.
It is estimated that one third or more households in Canada have at least one member who faces disadvantages related to transportation.
Residents interested in utilizing adVANtage can call 519-354-6221 ext. 275 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the transportation service and to request an application form.
Family Service Kent is a local non-profit agency that provides multiple services to support, empower, and advocate for members of the community.