New users of the society’s volunteer-driver program will have to pay a one-time $100 fee starting Oct. 1, to cover the rising cost of reimbursement.
But starting next month, new program registrants, many of whom will use the service 10 to 17 times, will have to pay a one-time $100 fee for the service.
It’s a necessity, says Tanya Nixon, the society’s senior manager of transportation, if the program is going to stay afloat amid growing demand and rising costs.
“More people are being diagnosed, the population is aging, people are living longer with cancer,” she said. “We always knew we’d start to see an increase in demand.”
Last year, 2,600 volunteers drove 15,500 cancer patients to appointments, an increase from 13,000 patients the year before.
John Buchan, who is also a member of the society’s provincial transportation steering committee, is one of those drivers.
For 10 years, Buchan — and in the past five years his wife as well — has driven patients to appointments around the Greater Toronto Area, a volunteer job he said is very fulfilling and deeply personal. He lost a sister to cancer in the years before he started driving.
“If your spouse or good friend has cancer, the cancer may not spread but the stress associated with it does,” Buchan said. “They’re happy to have somebody take the pressure of transportation from the family.”
Although he lives in Penetanguishene, he said most of the people he transports are from surrounding small towns and need to go to Barrie or Toronto for their appointments.
“A lot of people may have been to Barrie but never been to Toronto,” he said. “You just can’t imagine the stress of Toronto traffic on top of the stress of your partner having cancer.”
The volunteer driving program cost the society $6 million last year, the majority of which goes toward paying drivers for their mileage (currently 30 cents per kilometre, but it fluctuates depending on gas prices), vehicle wear-and-tear, and around 10 per cent of their licence and insurance costs.
As the demand and number of drives increases, so too do the fees.
Nixon said the new fee will help offset 15 to 18 per cent of the costs of driving a patient. Current program members and people 18 and younger won’t have to pay the fee.
“We wanted to try and bring in a program that was fair and equitable to everyone in the province,” she said. “It was such a tough decision . . . and it felt unjust to go back to people and say, ‘Now you have to pay us.’”
The society also plans to offer a Compassionate Program for those who can’t afford the $100, although Nixon said there is no way to tell at the moment how many people will require it.
Using the service, she said, is about much more than just needing transportation.
“It’s an environment that’s helpful to people,” Nixon said, “another step in their cancer journey that’s a supportive one.”