The City will be working in tandem with the Volunteer Airdrie Society concerning coordinating current Airdrie transit programs and the Drive Happiness - Seniors Assisted Transportation program to find direct or indirect help for the organization.

The decision came on Monday as David Maffitt, Chair of the Board of Directors of the organization came to council to ask that it consider providing financial assistance for its programming to the tune of approximately $73,000.

Maffit is preparing to step down from his role at the organization in several months. He outlined the goals and continued challenges the organization faces. He explained that over the past four years, a gap has been observed regarding transportation to medical appointments that are available only within the City of Calgary. 

He said that the organization is moving to a social enterprise business model as an organization.

"We're [offering] a new business relationship with the City of Airdrie to provide a transportation solution, possibly as a bridge alternative, until a more permanent solution can be found."

A presentation by Volunteer Airdrie to city council on Monday show-cased the high demand for its services. (Graphic credit to City of Airdrie / Volunteer Airdrie Society)A presentation by Volunteer Airdrie to city council on Monday showcased the high demand for its services. (Graphic credit to City of Airdrie / Volunteer Airdrie Society)

One of the organization's most utilized programs, the Drive Happiness Seniors Association program is now experiencing pressure due to high demand. Since the beginning of its partnership with the  Drive Happiness program, Volunteer Airdrie has completed over 2,484 appointments, equalling approximately 175,000 km of distance travelled by the drivers.

"I have been once around the Earth since July [in terms of kilometres]. I bought a new Jeep in July, and I've put 43,000 kilometres on it because I drive about two or three times a day to Calgary. We currently have 220 clients as registered riders and we have 20 registered volunteer drivers."

Due to the extremely high demand, Maffit said that there is the risk of driver burnout, and neither provincial nor federal funding has been approved.

Maffitt said that currently, the Canada Revenue Agency allows mileage rates at 70 cents per kilometre for the first 5,000 kilometres and 64 cents thereafter.

"I've calculated that the current fuel reimbursement that we're getting from Drive Happiness equates to about 24 cents per kilometre," Maffitt said. "We're not asking the City of Airdrie for that reimbursement. What we are asking for, is an ability to compensate our drivers for the wear and tear on their vehicles... which equates to about 40 to 46 cents per kilometre."

Between 2022 and 2023, the program has grown 60 per cent, with Maffitt estimating that approximately 11,000 kilometres is covered, which equates to an estimated $4,000 to $5,000 per month in vehicle mileage value.

"We could budget for our current level of activity and cap our services, which would require a $40,000 per year investment. If we build in 60 per cent, year-over-year growth, we're looking at an investment of between $63,000 and $73,000"

Volunteer Airdrie presented a proposal to council to help funding for one of their most highly utilized programs. (Graphic credit to City of Airdrie/ Volunteer Airdrie)Volunteer Airdrie presented a proposal to council to help with funding for one of their most highly utilized programs. (Graphic credit to City of Airdrie/ Volunteer Airdrie)

Maffitt said that such funding would attract more drivers, with his goal to have 35 drivers on the roster. 

"We think that the well-being of the seniors and the disabled in Airdrie will be dramatically improved if we can continue providing this service."

It was also underlined that a partnership with the city's transit system would ultimately save money.

"Volunteer Airdrie has gone to Airdrie Transit; we've talked Community Links, we've talked to many different organizations. The need is here and I know that with the taxi program, which was costing over $250,000 a year, we would be able to help the city save a lot of money by only asking for $73,000," added Daria Skibington-Roffel.

Skibington-Roffel was introduced by Maffit during Monday's city council meeting, as his successor. She will join the Volunteer Airdrie Society's Board of Directors shortly.  

"[This] would help The City of Airdrie and the transit system cover all those people who are currently unable to utilize the systems that are currently in place. Access Airdrie for instance, if someone takes Access Airdrie to Calgary, the service starts at 8 a.m; many times hemodialysis appointments start at 6 a.m. which is not offered by anyone other than the taxi services."

While councillors agreed that Volunteer Airdrie is filling the gap for low-income seniors to be able to utilize transport for medical procedures in Calgary, they also said that more information was needed.

"I am curious what areas, we as an organization, can potentially support you folks. I'm looking to our CAO [Chief Administrative Officer], because I'd like to understand better where we can potentially find some funding or is [this] going to set a precedent that we need to discuss," Councillor Heather Spearman said.

Councillor Al Jones enquired whether the organization has any corporate sponsorships that might help with funding, to which Skibington-Roffel said that she will be looking into that avenue once she becomes the Chair of the Board of Directors in June. 

Currently, there are 28 registered volunteer drivers with the Drive Happiness program, with 498 future bookings.  

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