In the late 1960s, transportation for adults using wheelchairs was limited to a single bus provided by the United Way and operated by various organizations for one-year terms. An increased number of requests from organizations seeking donations for vehicles equipped for wheelchair transport convinced the United Fund (precursor to the United Way) to establish a “Wheelchair Transportation Committee”.
It soon became apparent that a myriad of transportation systems could not provide efficient and economical transportation for all individuals requiring the service. One system, able to handle all the transportation needs for the agencies and organizations concerned, was the obvious answer.
In August 1971, HandiBus was formed as a non-profit organization that provided transportation to people in wheelchairs. The service began on January 1, 1972 with 12 full time drivers and six buses. Four vehicles were dedicated to transporting school children to various day programs, while the other two buses provided regular trips to 75 adult customers. Throughout the 1970s the demand for the service grew, but with limited resources and funding coming from a variety of organizations, HandiBus had to prioritize trips for work, school and medical appointments.
In 1979 The City of Calgary, through Calgary Transit, began funding approximately 95% of HandiBus’s yearly operating budget, which allowed the service to expand and better serve customers with trips for shopping, visiting and volunteering. The service was able to meet the needs of the community and provide a real measure of independence for passengers.
Over the years HandiBus continued to grow and serve more Calgarians, winning awards for excellence along the way. In 1997, the City of Calgary formed a Steering Committee on Transportation for Persons with Disabilities. The Committee was asked to review the structure of transportation for people with disabilities and make recommendations to improve special needs transportation in Calgary. HandiBus played an important role in this review. The result was the creation of Access Calgary in 2003. Access Calgary took over the registration and dispatch of HandiBus vehicles at this point.
Following the creation of Access Calgary in 2003, The City of Calgary continued to make improvements to accessible transportation in Calgary, which included bringing on additional service providers to offer more trips to passengers. This resulted in a redistribution of trips so that more ambulatory and non-critical passengers were serviced by accessible taxis and other bus services. Improvements were also made to make all regular Calgary Transit services accessible in 2015 thanks to low floor buses and ramps.
As a service provider for Access Calgary, it became increasingly difficult for HandiBus, a charity, to compete with for profit companies for trips, but there was a vital customer base who needed the highly specialized and accessible service that HandiBus offered that other service providers could not. In an effort to ensure that this core group of customers would continue to be serviced the operation of HandiBus vehicles was transferred to the City of Calgary as a division of Calgary Transit. This has ensured that the supports are in place to ensure a safe, caring and high quality service will be sustainable for Calgarians who require it.
At this point, Calgary HandiBus has changed focus from a service provider to advocacy and funding. We now serve as a voice promoting safe, caring, high quality specialized needs transportation in our city. HandiBus raises funds to provide highly specialized buses to Access Calgary and other non-profit organizations that promote and provide specialized transportation to our citizens with disabilities. We are here to ensure there are always buses on the road providing trips for Calgarians with special transportation needs.
1971-1976 W.H. (Bill) Green
1977-1982 Charles Ballard
1983-1984 Cliff Pettit
1985-1987 Bryan Gilks
1988 Don Brownie
1989-1990 Susan Holt
1991-1997 J.E. (Ted) Bowers
1997-2001 R.J. (Jim) Brown
2001-2004 Wayne Chodzicki
2004 John Cooper
2004-2005 Jim Brown
2005-2010 Brent Kirkby
2010-2012 Robert McClinton
2012-current Jim Brown