The nonprofit Rocky View Regional Handibus Society needs to update its fleet with two larger buses and are reaching out for donations to make it possible.

The society recently added one more bus their fleet with funds raised at a casino that were matched by a lottery grant. Still, they aim to get two more at a cost of $90,000 each before the end of 2020.

Executive director Paul Siller says some vehicles in their fleet are aging out and five are already past their prime.

He acknowledges the timing is horrible, especially amidst the pandemic when many other groups are also in need of help.

"We're asking our communities to help us, so we can help their neighbours," says Siller.

In addition, their smaller vans that are not cost-effective in the COVID-19 world.

Siller explains because of their size, they are typically able to transport one passenger at a time due to COVID-19 protocol. That's having a major impact on the economy of scales.

"Our mini-vans have been relegated to almost single-trip vehicles which means a lot of running back and forth. The way I look at it in the big picture is we have 50 per cent of our ridership but our capacity as a fleet has dropped by half because we can only put half the people on."

As in restaurants, certain passenger seats must remain empty to provide space, reducing the ability to share rides. In the past, three or up to six people have been able to share a ride to two or three destinations. Now even their larger buses can only accommodate two or three passengers per trip.

At the onset on COVID-19, trips declined 92 per cent because almost everything closed. Bookings were largely for dialysis, chemotherapy, critical lab work and, in a few cases, for groceries. Ridership increased to 30 per cent or the norm in July and it's expected to reach 50 per cent this month. Siller believes that will rise to 60 per cent October.

People are now leaving home for their medical appointments and every day destinations, he explains.

"Stuff that was deferred, or followup with specialists is making a big difference in bookings. The ongoing stuff that people did still hasn't opened up. The day programs, the shelter workshops and those kind of things are still kind of quiet."

Those wishing to learn how they can help the handibus society rebuild their fleet are invited to review a three-page prospectus available on their website. Click here.