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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Community Transportation Committee discusses possible collaborative initiatives with Crowsnest Pass

Chris Davis

A inter-community transportation meeting was held on January 6. Representing Pincher Creek Town Council as members of the Transportation Committee were Chair Doug Thornton, committee member and councillor Lorne Jackson, and Mayor Don Anderberg. Representing Crowsnest Pass council were CNP Transportation Steering Committee members Dave Filipuzzi and Dean Ward. Also in attendance were Town of Pincher Creek Director of Operations Al Roth and Jamie Anderson (Town of Pincher Creek), and Crowsnest Pass Family and Community Services Director Lyle Hannan. Other nearby communities, including Piikani, Cowley, Claresholm and Fort Macleod, were invited to send representatives, a door that Thornton said remains open going forward.

The purpose of the joint meeting was to assess transportation needs in the region and to ascertain possible mutually beneficial joint initiatives.

A previous meeting was held on August 26 of last year.

Dave Filipuzzi  said "I'm guess I'm just happy to be able to work collaboratively with neighbouring communities to work toward a common goal for all of us," a philosophy that seemed to meet with general agreement at the table.

One of the big issues raised was that of  hospital transfers. Ambulances in both communities are regularly used to transfer patients to hospitals in Lethbridge and Calgary, removing them as a resource for response in their home communities for significant amounts of time. In addition to travel time, Emergency Services personnel staffing an ambulance often have to wait until the medical appointment in that other community is concluded to transport the patient back to their home community. The Claresholm Transportation Society has had some success with alternative methods of transportation, and has reached out to other southern Alberta municipalities including Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass. Councillor Thornton explained that Claresholm "took the bull by the horns", and now uses a van that can transport two or three patients at a time for many of their hospital transfers, charging Alberta Health Services for the service. Thornton said the van alternative was proving to be considerably less expensive for Claresholm. "Our ambulance calls are going up," said Mayor Anderberg, adding that they have been increasing "probably for the last six years". 

Councillor Thornton said Pincher Creek's Transportation Committee met with local transportation providers, "everyone who has a bus", to understand areas of concern and to identify possible collaborative solutions. The age of the Crestview Lodge bus was one concerning item. The sustainability of the Care Bears project was another. Care Bears volunteers transport their clients to non-hospital medical appointments in Lethbridge, Calgary and Blairmore. Thornton reminded those at the table that the average "baby-boomer" is 68 this year. Both Crowsnest Pass and Pincher Creek have significantly aging population demographics.

Mayor Anderberg cited the Crowsnest/Pincher Creek Landfill as a good example of co-operation between the two communities. He said the recent closing of Sobeys was of concern to older citizens living in the downtown area of Pincher Creek, who now have to go to the north hill to shop.

Councillor Filipuzzi said the Town Rounder, a bus service that runs several times a day between Crowsnest Pass communities, was currently under-utilized. It was explained that project costs between $80,000 and $100,000 a year, recouping about $14,000. Both Filipuzzi and Anderberg stressed the need to insure any plan should include a hard look at how to recover costs and maximize usage.   "We would like to be able to offer a service, but we would like to see it get utilized, too," said Filipuzzi.

Anderberg said there was great deal of equipment around but "it's used for one purpose", or used only seasonally. Lyle Hannan said the biggest challenge in using the CNP Town Rounder for additional purposes would be scheduling during the daytime, and how far it would be able to travel while still fulfilling its core uses. He suggested it might be feasible to have it travel between Crowsnest Pass and Pincher Creek, but travel to communities further away such as Lethbridge would be a challenge. Dean Ward expressed a concern about possible driver overtime costs.

Councillor Lorne Jackson suggested the possibility of a public partnership subsidizing a portion of taxi expenses for hospital transfers that didn't require the resources of an ambulance. Mayor Anderberg said that was a solution already being implemented in the cities.

Another possible resource discussed was school buses that sit idle during much of the day and in the evening.

Another issue raised by Anderberg and Thornton was the possibility of busing in-town students to school, which was a hot-button topic in Pincher Creek two elections ago. Anderberg said there were some absurd situations being caused by the current busing policy, citing a grade 12 student in one home in town being eligible for busing and a grade 1 student in the same home being ineligible for busing. Lorne Jackson suggested that busing in-town students would have a significant positive impact on congestion before and after school. Related, the issue of student safety in the Crowsnest Pass was raised by Thornton, particularly regarding students who have to cross Highway 3 to get to school.

Mayor Anderberg said there was an opportunity for Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass residents to benefit from each other's facilities, such as the indoor pool in Pincher Creek and the curling rink in Crowsnest Pass, if there were better transportation opportunities between the communities available to citizens.

Councillor Thornton again expressed concern about the aging population in the area, saying that baby boomers are going to be challenged to stay in their homes as long as they can. "Most if asked would want to stay in their home," he said, adding that many are forced to move to Lethbridge, and then "we lose them".  He mentioned the success of the "Driving Miss Daisy" initiative in Sherwood Park, founded in 2002, which provides transportation services in large cars and small vans, which has a mandate to "preserve independence and prevent social isolation". Thornton suggested the possibility of a group-buy of a vehicle and the establishment of a pool of willing and eligible drivers.  "I think it is an important piece to that needs to be looked at, what are people willing to spend on this?" said Hannan at one point.  "The revenue side is one thing, but the social side is quite something else," responded Anderberg.

Dean Ward expressed concerns about the financial viability of municipally funded transportation, saying there was an outcry in the Crowsnest Pass when it was suggested that the fee for the Town Rounder be increased from $3.00 to $5.00 per trip. Ward said he probably gets more calls about that issue during during his 7 years on council than any other.

As the meeting drew to a close, Councillor Thornton urged the participants to return to the table "Hopefully before October 25", which will be the halfway point of both councils' terms, with the intent to be prepared to create an independent commission or organization "that meets with general approval" to be established with seed money from the municipalities. "Just getting back into our $27,000 that started off in this collaboration,  would it make sense to put together some kind of request for proposals, and find some company, some consultant, who could come and help us make these decisions? Even design what this system might look like?"  Thornton said Cowley and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek would be invited to the table, explaining that the Town and MD of Pincher Creek have a long history of jointly funding projects.  "I think seniors are a major concern," said Filipuzzi.  Thornton said the next step after that would be to solidify a plan and prepare a request for proposal (RFP) aimed at the 2016 budgeting cycle.

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