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B.C. car share service offers free rides to nature patients

Evo Car Share to offer 100 minutes of free driving to patients with a prescription for nature, a practice studies have shown improves mental and physical health.
An Evo vehicle on Menzies Street in Victoria. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A car share service operating in some of B.C.'s biggest cities is offering free drive time for people who have received a doctor's prescription for nature. 

Evo Car Share — a mobility program operated by B.C.A.A. Holding Ltd. — announced the plan to give free 100-minute rides on Monday alongside PaRx, a national nature prescription program launched in 2020 that now counts 13,000 health professionals prescribing to thousands of patients. 

“We prescribe nature but it’s hard sometimes to physically get there,” said Dr. Melissa Lem, Director of PaRx and a Vancouver-based physician.

“This is the first time that we’re reducing that transportation barrier.”

The push to prescribe nature has gained significant ground in recent years. That's largely due to a growing body of research that shows doses of nature — and in particular time among trees — improves a number of ailments, from high blood pressure and heart and lung disease, to depression and anxiety. Studies in Metro Vancouver have linked children who live near green spaces with improved school performance and reduced symptoms of ADHD

“The evidence is pretty rock solid that spending time is good for our health,” said Lem.

In one of the most recent studies into the impacts of nature on human health, University of B.C. researcher Micheal Brauer found patients recovering from heart surgery are more likely to live longer when they surround themselves with nature.

“I was very skeptical. But that seems like a really powerful effect,” Brauer said in an interview earlier this month. 

The Canadian PaRx program has been endorsed by the Canadian Medical Association and even been put forward by the World Health Organization as “the first national, evidence-based nature prescription program, driven by health-care professionals who want to improve their patients’ health by connecting them to nature.”

Since its inception, the program has created a number of partnerships to help people access nature, including an agreement with Parks Canada to offer free national park passes

One thing standing in the way of patients accessing nature is transportation. In cities like Vancouver, many destination parks on its periphery are not easily accessed by public transportation. Evo Car Share is expected to chip away at that barrier with its 2,300 vehicles and hundreds of thousands of members across home zones in Vancouver, the North Shore, Burnaby, New Westminster and Victoria (as well as round-trip pick up and drop off in Surrey). 

A spokesperson for Evo said the free membership and 100 free minutes is a one-time offer that can be applied to its cars and shared e-bike program in Whistler. It will be prescribed by doctors using a promo code. 

Evo Car Share director Amitis Khorsandi said in a statement the free rides will help help people get to the mountains and surrounding trails to go climbing, hike, bike, swim or forest bathe

“Without a car, getting to your favourite nature spots within the city can be difficult,” she said. 

Lem said the ride-share partnership will benefit more than ocean swimmers and mountain climbers. For those who have mobility problems but no car, the free ride will simply help them access nearby city parks. And for families, it could be a free ticket to a picnic area. 

“It will also help people get to a bench in a park,” Lem said.