Since its inception in 2006 the health bus servicing Williams Lake has seen a 55 per cent increase in ridership.
There were slightly more than 700 riders in 2007/2008 and slightly more than 1,100 riders in 2011/2012.
“It’s important to know that we do service citizens that are travelling for medical reasons, if there’s capacity on the bus, it is also open to the general public so we achieve some economies of scale,” Brent Hobbs, Interior Health regional director patient transportation services said.
A $5 one-way fare, has not changed since 2006.
The bus runs out of Williams Lake on Mondays, departing from the A&W at 7:30 a.m. and returns the same day, and health providers try to accommodate patients by booking appointments accordingly, Hobbs said.
Of the total $1.3 million IH-wide program for all levels of service in busing, shared by B.C. Transit and municipalities, the cost of providing the bus in Williams Lake annually costs around $38,000.
Up until the health bus, it was up to individuals to find their own transportation for medical appointments.
“My father-in-law Hugo Stahl lived in Williams Lake,” Hobbs said. “He had cancer and had to travel all the way to Kelowna for his treatments in winter conditions. This would have been a great service to have when he was making those trips.”
Chelsea Pilkington of Williams Lake has used the service in the winter to attend a medical appointment in Kamloops.
She appreciated the low price of the bus fare and being able to avoid winter driving.
“It was in December in the winter,” Pilkington said. “I’m not a fan of driving in the winter. I caught the bus at the A&W and was transported directly to Royal Inland Hospital and then caught the bus right at admitting department to come back home. It was very very convenient.”
When she made her appointment, she based it on when she could take the bus.
“It’s not always economically feasible for people to travel to Kamloops for medical appointments and the bus is very affordable,” Pilkington said. “For $5 you cannot drive there and in the winter time driving can be so stressful. If there’s fog up at Clinton, you don’t have to worry about it because the guy driving the bus is worrying about it.”
A comprehensive evaluation of the service in 2009 included gathering ridership feedback, but nothing has been done since then, other than B.C. Transit surveys.
Looking to the future, Hobbs said IH needs to look at how patients are moved and referred to medical specialities in the health region,” Hobbs said.
He is anticipating that more and more patients from the Cariboo Chilcotin will be referred to the new Interior Heart and Surgical Centre that recently opened in Kelowna.
“We will have to look at existing bus routes and evaluate whether or not there’s a business case to expand the routes or make changes.”
Currently there isn’t a capacity issue, despite the increase, Hobbs said.
Another service Williams Lake residents can access is the Northern Health Bus, if they are travelling to Vancouver for medical appointments.
In 2010, 211 passengers from Williams Lake used the service, in 2011, 195 used the service, and in 2012, 220 passengers used the service.
“Overall it’s been quite consistent for the last three years,” Erin Collins, NH communications manager said. “It’s not officially a Northern Health connections route, other than the fact that it passes through Williams Lake so we pick them up in Williams Lake as a courtesy, rather than being an actual service we provide.”
In terms of funding, it’s rolled into the overall NH transportation budget.
“It doesn’t matter to us, the passengers are going to Vancouver and we’re going there anyway so it’s not an additional cost for us to include those passengers,” Collins said.
The cost for that trip is $40 one way from Prince George to Vancouver, travelling Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays to Vancouver, returning Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Unlike the IH bus, only medical passengers can use the NH bus, Collins said, although patients can bring a companion with them.
Another difference is that the Northern Health bus is a standalone program with its own funding through the Ministry of Health in partnership with Diversified Transportation Ltd.