The Rocky View Regional Handibus Society (RVRHS) will be seeking a hike in funding from the seven municipalities it serves through a series of presentations over the next four months, including one in Cochrane.

Paul Siller, RVRHS executive director and general manager, explains they currently receive $7.70 per capita per year from each municipality and that still falls well short of a goal established in 2010 to receive more in the neighborhood of $10. 

"We started phasing things in, thinking 'OK this will work,' but if you're growing twice as fast as your fee schedule with municipalities now is the time to talk about how we get caught up for the next couple of years," says Siller. 

Ridership grew by 18 per cent across the region in 2017, according to year-end statistics released last Friday. The society had an overall $14,234 shortfall in operating funding. Chestermere's use grew by 47 per cent, something Siller largely attributes to an aging demographic, but it still doesn't match Cochrane's usage.

Ridership grew 14 per cent here, with residents making 4,998 trips, a year-to-end increase of 612. Cochrane has 512 registered passengers, up by 69 from 2017.

In comparison, Rocky View County has the second high number of registered users at 284, Chestermere 175 while all others fall well under 100.

Siller says he is concerned the request for more funding may be misconceived by some.

"Part of me feels this could be viewed as a bit of a shakedown. but it's not," he says."If you can't do it for what we're asking, why not price it out and see what someone else will ask you for the same service. I'm pretty confident that because we share the trips and because we collaborate with this potluck supper funding model, we're providing a lot of service for a lot less than, say, Southland would charge to do that sort of thing or a taxi company."

Operating costs for similar services in other municipalities reach as high as $25.18 per capita in Calgary but most are in the $11 to $17 range, according to statistics from the Canadian Urban Transit Association.

The handibus service started serving Cochrane in 2010. It does some local rides but the majority of the trips are to Calgary, predominantly for health-related appointments. The rides aren't free; they're subsidized. It costs users $4 for every 10 km travelled and that roughly covers 20 to 25 per cent of the cost, says Siller.

The per capita funding it collects has been rising roughly 50 cents annually for several years but with a rapidly growing service it isn't enough, he says.

"With four years of averaging 18 per cent growth, it's time to start making firmer plans for the future to better provide and support this the 2020-21 budgets."

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