Local concern as community transport charity cuts ‘vital’ services

By Myles Peterson

A local transport service for the elderly and disadvantaged labelled ‘‘vital’’ and ‘‘amazing’’ by users is struggling from a lack of visibility, funds and volunteers.

Community Accessability offers a wide range of services, driving clients to and from medical appointments, social inclusion visits and even provides assistance with shopping.

Frequent users of the service, Gary Meadows and his wife Beverly, are worried the Community Accessability’s daily trips to Melbourne are being scaled back to twice a week, running on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The couple regularly travels to Melbourne to visit Mrs Meadows’ liver specialist who is available only on Wednesdays.

‘‘This virtually cost us nothing. I think it was $40 we pay and that’s for my wife and me as a carer,’’ Mr Meadows said.

With Mrs Meadows wheelchair-bound, and Mr Meadows in his 80s, he said without the service they faced the daunting prospect of a lengthy return train journey, followed by navigating train stations and taxi ranks.

Mr Meadows is worried the cost and effort would be prohibitive on the elderly couple attending Mrs Meadows’ vital medical treatment.

Community Accessability has operated in Shepparton for two decades and currently employs a fleet of six vehicles, including mini-buses, driven by 40 volunteers.

The service is much cheaper than taxis, but available only to pensioners, the disabled and the underprivileged, such as low-income single mothers.

Danny McHugh said volunteering for the service had greatly improved his own life.

‘‘I love doing it. It’s made me a much better person — in the way I treat people and deal with people. It’s totally rewarding. You get to know a lot of different people,’’ he said.

‘‘Without our service people would be lost, they’d be stuck at home, they wouldn’t be able to get from A to B for their (medical) appointments and stuff like that.’’

Despite its somewhat low profile, Community Accessability is a driving force behind Shepparton’s popular Street Rider Night Bus Service and The Haven’s bus service for underprivileged people. The vehicles and fuel are supplied by Community Accessability.

Community Accessability general manager Helen Hunter thanked Greater Shepparton City Council for its support through the night bus service.

‘‘(Council is) always working with us, they provide us with some funding. We’re into our third year and we’re just about to sign up for another one,’’ she said.

‘‘They’ve been great. They understand the need for community transport.’’

Acting community development co-ordinator Joel Board for GSCC said the council supported Community Accessability to the tune of $20000 per year.

The rest of the organisation’s funding is sourced from the federal and state governments, but Victoria lagged well behind other states funding community transport, according to Ms Hunter.

‘‘We’re talking a difference from 50 and 80 per cent. Not every state but certainly NSW, Queensland and Tasmania,’’ she said.

Without improved funding and volunteers, Community Accessability would need to continue to ration its services, according to Ms Hunter, although new funding generated by the National Disability Insurance Scheme should see improvements in services for the disabled.

The office of Health Minister Jenny Mikakos did not respond by the newspaper’s deadline.

Individuals or their families interested in accessing Community Accessability services can phone 58318515.