You’ve probably seen the HandiCabs minibus dropping people off at the supermarkets and buzzing around the area and not given it a second thought; that’s certainly the case for me. But last month I was contacted by the organisation looking for help with letting people know what they do, because it is so much more than specialist transport for wheelchair users.
“You might need help with transport for a wide range of reasons. Handicabs is about making sure people are not stuck, for whatever reason, and that includes people who are isolated due to a lack of public transport where they live and have no other means of getting about,” explains Gary Toner, Assistant Operations Manager. “And of course we help people who have mobility challenges and cannot use public transport, which covers a broad range of issues.” It may be that you are recovering from surgery, undergoing chemo, or have a longer term challenge – whatever the case, HandiCabs is there to help. There are a lot of people in the community who could benefit but don’t know about it.
Handicabs Lothian covers Edinburgh, West Lothian, Midlothian and East Lothian, and offers two services which are a lifeline to many people in the community. Dial-A-Bus is a scheduled regular bus service Mondays to Fridays, to and from popular shopping destinations, where you book on and are collected from and dropped off at your home as opposed to a bus stop.
Dial-A-Ride is more like a taxi service, where you book your date, time and destination. Doctor’s appointments, family celebrations, airport drop-off or collection, social night out; Edinburgh Tattoo; even a Christmas Day dinner trip has been booked in the past.
Both services are “door through door” i.e. the driver is willing and able to assist with, for example, carrying your shopping bags into your kitchen; taking you right into the airport terminal building; giving you that extra helping hand with getting your coat on, whatever is required. “Many of our drivers have been with us a long time. They have built a personal rapport with customers, know them well and what their particular preferences are. And the banter on the bus between the regular customer is part of what makes it a really enjoyable service,” explains Laura Kearney.
Laura joined HandiCabs last year and is tasked with finding new sources of grant income for the charity, as, whilst the four councils in the areas covered provide operational funding, new sources are needed in order to be able to replace vehicles, as funding for this is dropping off. A certain amount of the cost is also offset by the fares customers pay, although theses are kept very low – Dial-A-Bus is £3.80 return; Dial-A-Ride is £4.75 for the first mile and 40p per mile thereafter, fixed rate. (Your first journye on Dial-A- Bus is free, and you get £5 off your first Dial-A-Ride, to try the services).
HandiCabs allow their customers, crucially, some independence that they wouldn’t otherwise have. It takes the pressure off family members, and gives you more independence to get your weekly shopping and jobs done, freeing up those “lifts for mum” for other events. It’s also a social safety net for many; Laura recounts an incident where one regular customer hadn’t booked on the bus and the bus driver commented that she was missing, and asked her friend if she was ok. Her friend said “She is coming, she’s waiting.” She had just forgotten to call and book, so they swung round and collected her. The camaradie of the group of regular customers made this possible.
Gary has been with HandiCabs for 26 years, starting out as a driver, then moving onto dispatch and now management. There are several others who are long serving, and the drivers tend to stay for a good number of years. It speaks volumes for the ethos of the charity, the work they do, the relationships with each other and with customers. “It’s like a big family. We even have a few families where several members of the family all work or volunteer here” says Laura.
Could you volunteer?
Volunteers are very welcome to help out with driving, dispatch or other work in the offices to keep things going behind the scenes. There are offices in Bathgate and Bilston Glen (Midlothian)
“Dial-A-Ride enabled me to become more independent and gave me a new lease of life. I was able to go to Livingston to meet friends; travel on a day out to Edinburgh Festival and to hospitals. If this service was not available I would be confined to my home town which has limited shop entrances for wheelchairs. Dial-A-Ride gives an excellent service. I cannot travel on ordinary bus service or taxis. I no longer exist, but live.” HandiCabs customer
If you, or someone you know, needs a hand with getting out of the house, as a one off or regular, please call HandiCabs to see if they can assist. The cheery team will be happy to answer any questions. A registration form needs to be completed in order to start using one of the services.
Contact HandiCabs Lothian on
Dial-a-Ride: 01506 633953
Dial-a-Bus: 01506 633336
Article published in Konect June 2019
Author: Helen-Jane Shearer