Regional Transit Program Plans Cutbacks in Coming Months

The Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation (CART) will cut back on its “demand response” routes twice a week, in order that all its Derry clients can get to where they need to be.
Executive Director Annette Stollar presented the new schedule, and the reason for it, in a Sept. 24 public hearing in the Derry Municipal Building.

Stollar said the program, which provides public transportation in Chester, Derry, Hampstead, Londonderry and Salem, is proposing elimination of the “demand response” rides on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “Demand response” is CART’s door-to-door service.
Stollar said the service reduction was an effort to reduce costs in response to a reduction in funding from the Town of Derry.
“We want to make the program work, and in order to do that, we need to take a critical look at the services we provide,” Stollar said. “We want to put the services where the most people need them.”
Derry cut $30,000 from its appropriation to CART in the 2013 budget and was level-funded for 2014. The requested appropriation before the cut was $47,000, Scott Bogle, board vice-chair and a senior transportation planner with the Rockingham Planning Commission, said. “This is 40 percent below the requested funding,” he added.
If municipal funding is down, he said, that means CART cannot access as much federal funding.
“The goal was to have service cuts commensurate with cuts in funding,” he said.
“We looked at ridership patterns,” Bogle said. “They are high on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.” Many of the Monday, Wednesday and Friday demand response trips were in connection with kidney dialysis or some other life-sustaining function, he said, and it made sense not to cut those days.
“We looked at the ridership and found Tuesdays and Thursdays were days we could more easily work around,” he said.
The changes have not been implemented yet and the proposed start date is Nov. 1, Bogle said.
CART depends on matching funds, Tim White, senior services coordinator for the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission, said, adding, “The money from member communities is an essential part.”
Stollar said she understood the situation with her towns. “The local communities have many people pulling at their purse strings,” she said. “They are not cutting us out.”
She hopes to restore the trips at some point, noting, “We have had incredible participation from Derry, and we expect to have more participation.”
“Derry and Salem are our two highest ridership towns,” Bogle said. Derry residents logged 5,100 trips this fiscal year, which ended Monday. The CART year goes from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
Salem funded its share of CART at $47,000, Stollar said.
The cutback will not affect the shuttle service to local stores and medical facilities, Stollar said, nor will it affect the “taxi voucher” program, in which residents needing rides purchase vouchers for cab service at half price. This is especially valuable for “early birds and night owls,” people whose needs for transportation do not fit into the shuttle service or demand response parameters.
Bogle said CART planned to send letters to all Derry demand-response customers, reminding them of the change and giving them opportunity to comment.
Board chairman George Sioras observed that riders use the service for three basic reasons: kidney dialysis, other medical needs and shopping trips, especially to Market Basket in Londonderry.
A few are also using it for part-time jobs, Stollar said.
The board is willing and eager to work out solutions for the riders impacted by the loss of Tuesdays and Thursdays, Bogle said, adding, “We want to talk with them.”
Seniors with disabilities may be eligible for a shuttle service operated by a different company, and there are always taxi vouchers, he said.
With the voucher service, a client purchases $100 worth of taxi vouchers for $50. The other half is funded by the federal government, board member Natalie Avila said.
Clients with concerns are welcome to call Stollar at 437-999, e-mail her at [email protected], contact another board member or attend the next board meeting Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 4 p.m. in the Derry Municipal Center.