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Community Bus, vulnerable future but essential service.

This comes from the team of the Community Bus.

What do you do when you need regular hospital appointment? – The hospital is Waikato Hospital, sometimes Thames; you don’t know how long the wait will be when you get there.

You are not so robust that you can cope with a journey where there are other passengers with different destinations. Your situation cannot cope with a ‘milk run’ journey. That’s where the Community Bus in Whitianga excels.

This incorporated society has a vehicle dedicated to this service. It resides at the Mercury Bay Bowling Club - a modern, quality vehicle known as the Community Bus. The service they provide is personal and tailored to the needs of their client and their appointment schedule. It is door to door pick up and return home.

It is essential to have this many drivers because the journey to Waikato Hospital with a broken Highway, the waiting at the Hospital and stopping for a bite to eat, is a whole day excursion. Drivers feel committed to their clients (passengers); they share stories on the way, sometimes very personal stories as often health and the uncertain nature of the future can be a topic of conversation if raised by the passenger.

The Community Bus was initiated by several years ago by Dorothy Preece and Pat Welsh. They came to see the Community Health Support Group about the need for a bus for retired people who had no real means of transport and who needed to do shopping errands and get to medical appointments. Wendy Algie who was with the support group, spent some time on doing a survey and the final outcome was - Yes, there was a great need and 86% said the need was for hospital appointments. Even if a person could drive, the trip to Thames was not an easy one and people needed transport for these. The proposal was to start up a bus to take people to hospital. A public meeting was held, and a committee established. There was a great deal of community support and fund raising resulting in the formation of a Trust with $70,000 being the result of the hard work. A vehicle with a hoist was purchased for disabled passengers as was a lighter smaller vehicle. Matt Algie was appointed Chairman of the Trust and a working group was set up.

Q: How is the costing done? The drivers do not know what a person pays. The co-ordinator of the Community Bus service, Madeline Saunders, works out a donation price with the passenger when they call. If you are taking a support person, that person does not pay. The Community Bus has not put the price up yet but there are extra costs to contend with because of the extra distance to travel with the broken highway and the cost of fuel.

Madeline tells people what they are expected to pay and the majority are able to claim that from the government in national travel assistance and most people are eligible for it. The eligibility is having to go to a medical facility that is not available in the town a person lives in.

Travel reimbursements?

When a person’s doctor or medical team prescribes a specialist or a course of treatment in a place geographically at a distance from where the patient lives, then that person is entitled to National Travel Assistance and that form is available from the patient’s doctor or medical office. You get that form signed at the hospital, you send it in, and the cost of the trip is refunded into your bank account.

Peter van der Putten,of Whitianga Social Services has all the details and the National Travel Application forms.

Personal service

We do not officially do shopping trips to Thames or Hamilton but if a person needs a few things done when they are going to Thames or Waikato Hospital, then we take them and wait for them to do the necessary errands,” says President Matthew Algie.

The other aspect we attend to sensitively is ‘comfort stops’.

What has changed?

· The taxi company purchased the van that had the hoist and facility for wheelchairs. We had to sell it because we didn’t have enough money to keep both vehicles going. Registration, insurance, road user charges had all increased. The smaller, modern SUV vehicle we have is very useful, comfortable and affordable.

· St. John’s also run a similar service and because they are part of a national network and have the funding of the Op Shop, the Community Bus at first seems a bit redundant.

· A taxi service was established in that time which did help older ones with shopping errands.

However, there are some vital differences. St Johns is not able to get people to appointments that require them to leave before 9.00am. Sometimes an early hospital appointment cannot be avoided.

The longest trip by one of the Community bus drivers was a 5.45 am start and home at 10pm


From a driver - Gwynne Howell “I have been driving for the Community Bus for 12 years. When I first started there was this couple, living at Cooks Beach. I picked them up at Whenuakite. I asked one day, “Why is your husband picking you up at Whenuakite” he seemed very frail, I knew we offered a door-to-door service but somehow this arrangement had been made because they didn’t want to be an extra bother to the driver and hoped to save the driver some time. Made the decision to always drive the lady right to her door at Cooks Beach. It was a big relief for the couple. Once you say yes to being the driver, then you commit to the whole day. Trying to save time here and there is just pointless and stressful. Giving the time and attention to the person really makes a great day,” says Gwynne.

Passenger (anon)

“In the last 12 months, I have had five trips over to Waikato Hospital. I have had three different drivers as soon as I phone the number, the co-ordinator organises the driver, then the driver phones me and organises a time to be picked up. I tell them the time and where the appointment is. You go right to the hospital or wherever you have the appointment.

Regarding the time to be picked up from the hospital, or arrangements for lunch etc you work out with the driver what you want to do. Now that we have to go the long way round to get home, there is always consideration of a meal somewhere.

Still a need for the Community Bus: More drivers are needed. Some of those who volunteered 14 years ago have retired. There is also a need for administration and co-ordination.

The vehicle and the divers are outstanding.

Community Bus provides an excellent service, but it needs new volunteers. All of us might come to the situation one day where we need transport to the hospital for regular appointments.

I don’t want to see this service fold. Other organisations don’t offer this same service any time of day and also extra errands can be taken once the destination has been reached.

Often you are the only passenger, and you can bring a support person. It helps when there are not extra stops to other places along the way to and from.”

Thank you!

We have had wonderful community support. Charlie of Charlie’s Workshop has done a lot of work for us for free. We have had tyres given to us free of charge. We have been fortunate in that people in this community have been very good and generous. This need not stop – especially now that people are disadvantaged by the broken highway.

AGM will be held next month, and the date will be announced in The Informer.

Community Bus contact - Madeline Ph 866 0169 or Ph 867 81333, back-up phone - Gwynne 021 063 2600.

Caption: Wendy and Matt Algie, Chairman of the Mercury Bay Community Bus Society Inc, and Madeline Saunders, co-ordinator of the Community Bus service.


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