Ontario cancer patients who need a ride to their chemotherapy or radiation appointments will have to pay $100 for the service, thanks to a new fee imposed by the Canadian Cancer Society. 

Starting Oct. 1, the Ontario division of the Canadian Cancer Society will begin charging any new patients who register for the society’s transportation service.

“This was a hard decision. We didn’t make it lightly,” said Tanya Nixon, the society’s Senior Manager for Transportation.

Since the 1950s, the society has provided free transportation to cancer patients who have no other way of getting to their treatment. The service is offered by volunteers who are paid 30 cents per kilometre. 

But according to cancer society, demand for the service has grown by nearly 20 per cent in recent years, with more than 15,500 patients now getting rides annually.

“In order to continue with the program and with the number of people who are being diagnosed … we needed to do something” said Nixon.

The $100 fee, she said, is a one-time payment.

Cancer society officials say there will be a program to cover the costs on a compassionate basis for those unable to pay.

“It’s an unfortunate decision,” said Greg Thomson, with Charity Intelligence, an agency that analyzes Canadian charities for their cost-effectiveness.

His review shows that the program costs the Canadian Cancer Society more than $6 million a year -- or about $390 dollars for each cancer patient who signs up for regular rides.

“They have to charge for something that is seen as a ‘volunteer’ program when in fact it costs (money) to run it,” said Thomson. “It may be justified but there is an optics problem.”

The Ontario division of the Canadian Cancer Society raised about $100 million last year from donations and their annual lottery. But half that money, $48 million, was spent on fundraising.

Part of the difficulty, Thomson suggested, is that it’s easier for cancer charities to raise money to find a cure -- but not for providing the less glamorous, day-to-day services, like transportation.

“Ideally they could have fundraising for this ride service … but I would imagine they looked at it and found it tough sell,” he said.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews weighed in Wednesday on news of the fee.

“It’s a key service, absolutely. It does not fall under our ministry," she said.

“We provide the doctors and the nurses and the chemotherapy and the radiation and the surgery and all of that part of the cancer journey. When it comes to additional services provided by charities, from the Canadian Cancer Society and other charities, we welcome those with open arms because they really do support people through that journey so I urge people to let the Canadian Cancer Society know what they think.”

Matthews added: “I have been told, however, that the Canadian Cancer Society indicated that they will not charge that fee if someone can’t afford it.”