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Gravelbourg benefits from federal transportation grant

Gravelbourg received $85,683 toward a new vehicle for its local shuttle service and to construct a garage to house the transportation vehicle.
Gravelbourg received $85,683 toward a new vehicle for its local shuttle service and to construct a garage to house the transportation vehicle.

ASSINIBOIA - As part of the federal government announcement from the budget that outlined a $6.1 million grant that will support 11 transportation projects across rural Saskatchewan, the community of Gravelbourg was named as one of those grant recipients.

Gravelbourg received $85,683 toward a new vehicle for its local shuttle service and to construct a garage to house the transportation vehicle.

Gravelbourg is located approximately 150 kilometres southwest of Regina and just over 110 kilometres away from Moose Jaw. While the town has a hospital, there are still seniors who need to travel elsewhere for specialized medical appointments.

When the Saskatchewan Transportation Company closed in 2017, it left many people in remote areas with no public transportation. This affected those who are not able to drive or could not afford to drive without options. This announcement is extremely exciting for Gravelbourg.

In 2018, an industrious group of individuals banded together to come up with solutions to this problem. They set up an information booth at a town festival and asked those who stopped by if a shuttle service would be beneficial. More than 100 signatures were received so the group moved forward in their efforts to secure such a service in their community.

Fundraising has been ongoing since the initial donation of $25,000 from the Town of Gravelbourg and by 2019, there were enough funds to purchase an eight-passenger van.

The mandate of this community organization is outlined in their brochure, stating, “Gravelbourg Cares is a non-profit, customer focused, non-emergency, wellness shuttle service providing punctual, courteous round-trip transportation for persons of all ages requiring medical services not available in our home community.”

Jean Hebert, board member, said, “It can be tough to get from rural communities to cities for appointments.”

Hebert is part of the Gravelbourg Cares Shuttle Service, serving as a board member with other people and had previously served as a dispatcher for four years.

“While I wasn’t involved in the launch of this organization I came on board shortly thereafter. In one short year our vision came to reality,” added Hebert.

Hebert was part of the small committee who worked on the submission for the grant, as well as helping with hands-on work involved with the community’s shuttle service.

“We had to meet all the criteria to be eligible for the rural transit subsidy grant. We had to be considered an existing transit service of some description, we had to have an established track record and we had to prove this is what we do and how we do it,” continued Hebert.

The Gravelbourg Cares Shuttle Service also had to show they were willing to be more energy efficient and economical. The grant also required that they submit what areas they served, which is primarily Gravelbourg, however, Hebert affirms that 35 per cent of their calls come from outside of Gravelbourg, so they are in essence, a multi-community service.

Hebert said they were the focus of a University of Saskatchewan study researching how they can operate and how effective the service is and the value to residents. When this research report came out in the spring of 2023, communities of Estevan, Moosomin and Indian Head approached the Gravelbourg organization to discover more about their success story, with hopes of emulating it.

Because Gravelbourg Cares Shuttle Service is a charity, they can receive donations. Riders can contribute to its operation, but it can’t be classified as a fare.

“We ask for a suggested donation, but keep it low and affordable. It is $65 for a return trip to Moose Jaw and $80 for a return trip to Regina.”

Another amazing component of this service is they have since incorporated a connector service in Assiniboia. Hebert affirms this is a very impressive collaboration as residents needing to access the shuttle service can receive the same door to door service by calling the one single phone number for dispatch.

Nelson GM partnered with the Masons, thanks to set up help from Larry Coglund, and there is no cost for passengers from Assiniboia to be transported to Gravelbourg to connect with the shuttle service. The driver picks up the rider at home and brings them to corner of Highways 48 and 3, and the shuttle service meets them there.

The board for this incredible rural transportation service said with their previous van, they found that they were normally carrying one to three passengers, and rarely took in four, thus the need to downsize. Senior riders also found the van was quite high to get into.

Since the federal announcement a new hybrid five-seat vehicle has been purchased, making it more economical fuel-wise while allowing enough room to transport those in need. Fuel is currently paid for by optional donations and the community shuttle service has one paid employee with all other positions served by volunteers.

The group has found that their shuttle service is not only beneficial to seniors but also a benefit to young families and newcomers who also might not have access to the same kind of transportation. Hebert spoke of the flexibility of the service, helping others with wellness reasons that are done in conjunction with a medical trip.

Volunteers for Gravelbourg Cares Shuttle Service feel rewarded knowing their time is well spent helping people get to necessary medical appointments.