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Supporting Drive Happiness program too risky for Airdrie council

Council could find no way to financially support the Drive Happiness Seniors Assisted Transportation program without opening up the City to liability risks, instead they will be reviewing their existing Specialized Medical Trips to Calgary program.
MVP Drive Happiness Innisfail
Drive Happiness

Airdrie city council has moved away from the idea of direct financial support for Volunteer Airdrie's Drive Happiness program.

Drive Happiness is a low-cost volunteer driver service mainly used by seniors for medical trips to Calgary. Volunteer Airdrie came forward earlier this year seeking a partnership with the City to compensate volunteer drivers for private vehicle maintenance and depreciation. The value of their request was $73,000 reflective of costs from April 1 to Dec. 31 in 2024.

This funding was to be in addition to the compensation provided by Volunteer Airdrie to the volunteer drivers to cover a portion of their fuel costs. 

Council decided it could find no way to financially support the program at its July 2 meeting without opening up the City to liability risks.

Airdrie’s legal team outlined that the implications of providing funding include the fact that compensation constitutes a contractual relationship, which increases risk and liability for the City. 

Standard automotive insurance policies do not allow for compensation for hire, stated administration. In case of an accident, the client couldn’t collect through their own auto insurance, but would then seek collection from those funding the service.

Airdrie’s legal team also explained that compensation from the City necessitates a Health and Safety Management System under the OH&S act. Administration stated that funding this request would set precedent for other non-profit and community organizations.

While Airdrie could provide a grant to Volunteer Airdrie without specifying its use, Mayor Peter Brown said that goes against transparency of the use of taxpayers money.

Instead of funding Drive Happiness, and opening the City up to liability concerns, council requested a report reviewing the scope of the existing Specialized Medical Trips to Calgary program to include provision for additional supports, including hemodialysis. This report would include any operational requirements, including operating and budget implications, of a City managed program. 

Administration stated that report would not be ready any earlier than Q2 of 2025.

Council, through their Transit operating budget, invests approximately $40,000 per year into the Specialized Medical Trips to Calgary service, contracted by a third party provider, Checker Cabs. This program provides curb-to-curb transportation to specialists or medical appointments that cannot be fulfilled by practitioners or providers within Airdrie. This program is eligible to Access Airdrie paratransit clients and provided 438 trips in 2023.

Council members discussed at length the service gap in Airdrie and agreed the service is a necessity. 

Over 70 per cent of Drive Happiness trips to Calgary are to support hemodialysis appointments which are not available in Airdrie and receive no financial contribution from Alberta Health Services (AHS). 

Chris MacIsaac, team leader of transit and active transportation, stated that for the City to provide a similar level of service as Drive Happiness, it would cost approximately $12,000 per month. Dave Maffitt, former chair of Volunteer Airdrie and current volunteer, said the Drive Happiness Seniors Association has a $5 million Commercial General Liability (CGL) policy that extends to all the drivers.

Masha Scheele

About the Author: Masha Scheele

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