Once every week, Michelle Curial-Hebert sends out a driver to pick up an elderly man at his house.
They take a ride around town, look at construction sites and go to Tim Hortons. After an hour, the man is returned to his home.
If need be, the driver walks him to the door, takes him inside, and makes sure he’s settled in. Then he goes home.
“It’s as if they are driving with a friend. We understand things about them, they understand things about us,” Curial-Hebert said.
“It’s like a friend or a relative that can help them and talk to them and listen to what they need to say.”
The drivers are called daisies, named after the franchise Driving Miss Daisy, a service that provides transportation to elderly and disabled persons.
Curial-Hebert is the owner of the St. Albert franchise. She offers rides in three cars at an average cost of $60 to $70 an hour.
As of 2012, Driving Miss Daisy comprises 50 franchises operating more than 60 vehicles throughout Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
There are other companies operating under the same name in the United States, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.
But it all started with one woman and one car in St. Albert.
Bev Halisky, president of Driving Miss Daisy, didn’t expect her business idea to take off the way it did.
In 2001, after years of working in the medical field, Halisky was looking to settle into a retirement project. She saw a need for a service that combined transportation and companionship for seniors and those with disabilities.
In January of 2002 she took the first Driving Miss Daisy car out on the road.
It’s not a taxi company, she said.
“If we go to somebody’s house, we don’t just sit out on the curb in the taxi and wait for them to come out,” she said.
“We actually go in, we help them get their jacket on, and make sure they have their Alberta health-care card if they go to a doctor.”
At first, Halisky drove her car around St. Albert, taking seniors to appointments with doctors and programs in the city and in Edmonton.
But she could barely keep up with the demand.
Instead of hiring more drivers and buying new cars, she decided to franchise the company.
When she was ready to sell she had four people waiting to buy without even advertising, she said. That was in September of 2002.
“When I started it was unheard of. And when I did start I got a lot of media attention because there’s never been anything like that,” she said.
“There are some competitions now. Some of them are probably doing as well as we are or equally well, and some are just doing it on the sideline.”
Halisky said the people who hire a daisy cannot or don’t like to use traditional taxi services. Their mobility and vision is often poor and they don’t feel at ease with strangers.
Daisies are hired based on their personality. They have to provide a security clearance and must have CPR and first aid training. They also sign a confidentiality agreement to make sure that they don’t turn into competitors.
Halisky added that they are more than chauffeurs. They often spend time with clients at their home, or accompany them to family events and weddings.
“And when (Grandma) is done we take her home, make sure she’s in her house with her door locked and her coat hung up, and make sure she has a glass of orange juice,” she laughs.
She added that adult children find the service more beneficial as the daisies look after their parents and “they don’t have to miss out on work and miss out on some pay.”
Sometimes, she said, they even thank the company in obituaries. As proof, she holds up a scrapbook with newspaper clippings that she’s collected over the years.
The name, Driving Miss Daisy, is apparently not inspired by the play of the same name. But Halisky’s husband Dave admits he may have seen a commercial for the movie when he came up with it.