Higher gas prices and increased demand are squeezing the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society (VCDS).
The service provides free transportation for cancer patients to and from appointments in most Lower Mainland communities.
The all-volunteer service expects it will have gone through all of its operating funds within the next three months, after which it will be forced to dip into its cash reserve, said spokesperson George Garrett.
There is enough in the reserve fund to keep the service going another three or four months, Garrett said.
The rate the VCDS gives its drivers was recently increased from 41 cents to 44 cents a kilometre.
“It’s a struggle to pay our drivers,” Garrett said.
Many drivers donate their expense fees back to the charity, Garrett noted, which returned $32,000 to the charity last year.
The average cost per ride in the Langley-Abbotsford area hit an all-time high in June at $43.07.
Patients in that area are driven the longest distances, going to BC cancer clinics in Vancouver, Surrey and Abbotsford.
In the Maple Ridge area, the average per-ride cost was $35.52, Surrey-Delta was $25.94, Tri-Cities was $20.69, North Shore was $17.35 and New Westminster was $11.46.
New West tends to have the shortest rides, with most patients going to neighbouring Surrey.
The number of people requesting rides is projected to increase from 6,000 in 2017 to 8,000 this year.
It costs about $15,000 a month to operate the service, with virtually all of that going to help cover driver costs.
“We have no employees, no office,” Garrett said.
“Dispatchers work from their homes.”
The decision to put some money aside for a rainy day has had an unintended consequence.
“We were told that we couldn’t apply for a lottery grant because of the reserve,” Garrett said.
On Sunday, Aug. 19, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the VCDS will hold its second car wash fundraiser in Langley. It will take place at Langley Chrysler at 9418 Langley Bypass near the Surrey-Langley border.
Langley Chrysler has promised to match the donations and Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese will be taking part.
“I encourage others to stop in and help raise funds for this important charity,” Froese said.
Cancer drivers president Bob Smith says the first car wash event, at White Rock Volkswagen was very successful, raising several thousand dollars.
“We are grateful for the support given us by the Trotman Auto Group, owners of both Langley Chrysler and White Rock Volkswagen,” Smith said.
The VCDS operates in both Langleys, Abbotsford, Surrey, White Rock, Maple Ridge, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Port Moody, the North Shore, Delta and part of New Westminster.
Service to other communities in the Lower Mainland is offered by the Freemason’s Cancer Car Program.
Dispatchers work from home, and volunteers drive one to three times a week. Patients call the number, leave information with their address and time of appointment, and they get a call back within 24 hours with info on the driver.
The VCDS was created as an emergency replacement by drivers who used to work in the Volunteer Driver Program, which was cancelled in 2015 after almost a quarter century as a cost-saving measure by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS).
When the CCS cancelled its volunteer drivers program, its press release said the decision was based on “factors such as similar government-funded driving programs, decreasing volunteers and ridership as well as increasing operating costs.”
The society offers free transportation to patients throughout diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care. A caregiver may accompany a patient and most drivers can accommodate walkers and wheelchairs.
To schedule a ride, once a patient has received their referral and knows the dates and times of upcoming appointments, they, a family member or a caregiver can call the dispatch office at 604-515-5400.
The caller will be greeted by an automated attendant and asked for their name, address, phone number and the date and location of their appointment.
They will be contacted via phone by their designated volunteer driver to introduce him/herself, confirm they appointment, and arrange a pickup time for a round-trip ride.
The driver will wait at the appointment location and return the patient home immediately afterward.
Anyone interested in volunteering with the VCDS can visit the website for information on how to apply: volunteercancerdrivers.ca.
Drivers must provide proof of insurance, a reference, their ICBC driving record, and pass a criminal record check.