Wrinklies Express bus service

Last updated 05:00 15/03/2014

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A successful door-to-door patient transport service between Golden Bay and Nelson Hospital could also work well in Blenheim, its organisers say.

Fondly referred to as the Wrinklies Express, the bus caters for people aged over 50 and the disabled.

Golden Bay Community Vehicle Trust transports members from their homes to hospital in Nelson. Priority is given to people attending medical appointments but those who wish to go shopping also use the service.

It was started in 1999 as a hospital transport service for those retirees having difficulty accessing transport.

Fourteen years on it has 300 members and is funded by membership fees, donations and company sponsorship.

Booking co-ordinator Willa Visker said the service was an alternative to expensive bus and taxi trips to Nelson.

"There has been a big demand for the service," she said. "Golden Bay haven't got a great bus service over the hill to Nelson Hospital. The tourist bus leaves at 7am which is inconvenient for a lot of people.

"Previously, if you were stuck and couldn't find a way to the hospital, people had to turn to neighbours, friends and relatives to transport them.

"The biggest advantage of the service is the reassurance for elderly people they can get out to a medical appointment when they need to."

Trust members pay a $15 annual subscription and $30 for a return trip from Golden Bay to Nelson.

Two eight-seater buses travel from Golden Bay to Nelson and to Collingwood respectively. Last year the Nelson bus made 280 trips. The bus service runs through a booking system and operates whether there is one passenger or it is filled to capacity.

There are 12 volunteer drivers, all retirees.

In 2013, it cost $12,600 to run the service. The trust received $3600 in subscriptions, $8500 in donations and thousands of dollars in sponsorship.

Mrs Visker said the trust had "never been in the red" financially. A sponsor paid for bus insurance, they had received fuel discounts and other advocacy groups had donated money.

The last inter-hospital shuttle service for patients between Blenheim and Nelson was stopped in March 2012 after six months due to a lack of demand.

Last month the Marlborough Express reported Blenheim wheelchair-user Linda Barnes had been unable to find transport home from Nelson Hospital.

The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board apologised to Mrs Barnes after a social worker suggested she hop on a bus or pay $750 for an ambulance home.

The board said it was exploring options with St John for inter-hospital transfers.

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Mrs Visker said community support was essential if Blenheim followed the Golden Bay model.

"If you have the volunteers to support the service it would work anywhere. In a big town like Blenheim it would work well. Of course there are always taxis but they are expensive and not all of them are wheelchair-accessible. When we started it took off like a rollercoaster. After we had enough money to buy a van we had 100 members within the first year."

- The Marlborough Express

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