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Evergreens Foundation takes over bus services

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The Evergreens Foundation has agreed to take over accessible transportation services for residents with mobility limitations, previously offered by the Freedom Express bus.

The Town of Hinton entered into an agreement with Evergreens to provide an annual financial contribution towards this service, based on the Freedom Express model.

In turn the Town-provided Freedom Express Transportation Service will be eliminated.

Coun. Trevor Haas clarified that the service would remain the same under the operation of Evergreens.

“Within the agreement, the minimum requirements are the 21 hours of service that the service has to run. That’s just the minimum service within the agreement, they absolutely can go above and beyond from that,” said Caryn Bouchard, Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) Manager.

There is room for future growth through the agreement.

While the conversation around the transition hasn’t gone in depth, Bouchard stated that they will attempt to create the easiest possible transition for residents, which would include honouring previously purchased passes.

“This is the future of municipalities, especially our size, is partnering up whether it’s regionalization or working with partners in our community,” said Mayor Marcel Michaels.

He added that this puts the community in a better position from a taxpayer and service-delivery perspective.

This decision was in response to a departmental budget reduction to the FCSS of $75,000.

Those savings come from the transfer of the Freedom Express Services to an external agency, a restructure to the core FCSS team, and the development of the Hinton Family Resource Centre.

After consulting multiple agencies, administration identified Evergreens as a community agency interested in taking over the delivery of the bus service.

Evergreens is equipped with the expertise and bussing equipment to most easily assume this transfer of service.

Town Administration and Evergreens Administration developed a proposed agreement wherein the Town would provide a financial contribution of $25,000 per year to enable Evergreens to assume the delivery of accessible, door-to-door transportation for residents with unique mobility limitations that cannot be accommodated by the Public Transit System. 

Based on the current Freedom Express Service model, it would include similar rates, eligibility criteria, and hours of operation. 

The Agreement was presented In-Camera to Town Council at the July 21, 2020 Standing Committee Meeting.

Following that meeting, a direction was made to recommend Council to enter into an agreement with Evergreens as presented In-Camera, which was carried unanimously.

The approval of the agreement with Evergreens initiates Administration’s overall restructure of the FCSS department.

The core FCSS team will move from four positions, made up of two full-time and two part-time, to three full time positions.

Due to the limited cost savings in the 2020 year, the full service and position review will not be fully actualized until January of 2021. 

These changes will also prompt the development of a Hinton Family Centre.

With the closure of Parent Link due to the elimination of provincial funding in March, 2020, there has been a significant community gap identified in the area of services for young families. 

An application was submitted through the provincial Family Resource Network to continue key services for young families. 

FCSS received one quarter of the funding requested, and the reduced funding was awarded by the province for the Town of Hinton to offer Caregiver Education Services.

To fill the gap, administration identified the reintroduction of services for young families as a key priority within FCSS’s mandate of providing preventative social support to the community. 

The FCSS Coordinator, Community Connection, the FCSS Coordinator, Family Life, and the Caregiver Education Coordinator will collaboratively provide these services to ensure families have access to the engagement opportunities, relationship-building activities, and educational resources that will enhance comprehensive family support.