"Community transportation is the most wonderful thing that has happened in Camrose!"
Until recently the situation was different, more along these lines: "I wish I had never moved to Camrose. I was told it was a wonderful city with great amenities for seniors - and it is. It is a wonderful city, but it has no bus service! Where I came from there were far fewer amenities but it at least it had a bus." A group of us were at a City of Camrose Council meeting to discuss the need for public transportation in this small city and an older very articulate Camrose resident was speaking for many in the community.
Today the story is different. Camrose Community Bus ─ not quite a year old ─runs four days a week and is well used, in fact, the number of riders has surpassed all expectations. The day I rode for the purpose of this story we were at the point of having to stand if one more person boarded. Fortunately a rider disembarked making room for the next passenger. To quote one of the passengers, "It is the most wonderful thing that ever happened in Camrose!"
As I rode the bus I talked to riders because I wanted to hear their take on the service and how it was filling their needs. Having access to this service has made their lives richer and more meaningful. As one rider put it, "If I didn't have the bus, I would be stranded." Another said, "It has changed my life. For $2, I can ride the bus to work." While people going to work, students and seniors have somewhat different needs, particularly in terms of the starting and ending times, all sing its praises.
Back at that meeting with the City of Camrose another strong older individual asked the Council how much they paid for a loaf of bread. That had the attention of all of us. It cost me $16 before we had the bus. Today people are using the public transportation system to get to the grocery store, attend doctors' appointments, to meet friends for coffee and lunch, or to reach their work places and classes; all of which are important and necessary for good health and personal well-being.
The bus has brought freedom to many people who were once stranded at home. It stops outside my building and one day when I was out with my dog I met a couple pushing through the snowy sidewalk to the bus stop. The woman pushing the wheelchair told me the bus has been a lifesaver for them as they are no longer "stuck" at home. The bus arrived and driver Barry Toms was there to help the man in the wheelchair board. Barry is credited with being the "heart and soul" of the service.
Is the Camrose Community Bus service a success story? Most definitely.
Another benefit is that some riders indicate they leave their vehicles at home in winter weather and ride. Winters in Alberta can create challenging road conditions. For people to have the option to leave the vehicle behind and still be able to get out is a bonus for all of us and the environment.
With all the enthusiasm for this service there are still recommendations for improvement, such as increasing the number of days it runs, adding more hours at the beginning and end of the day, and increasing the bus running hours to later on weekends particularly so people can attend events and still return by bus. And yes, add new routes.
We have come a long way from that day at the Camrose City Council meeting. Thanks to the leaders who listened and acted, the lives of many Camrose citizens have been significantly enhanced.