They want to get it right. The Londonderry Town Council once again addressed the matter of providing some form of transportation for its most valuable, and vulnerable, population.
In previous meetings, the board has discussed eliminating the funding line for CART, the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation, and providing its own bus service instead. Other ideas floated include keeping CART and also starting its own service. The board directed Town Manager Kevin Smith to come back with stats on how many Londonderry seniors actually use CART.
Smith came back with a 2015 survey by the Londonderry Senior Resources Committee which received 411 responses. According to the survey, at that time, 326 of the respondents used their own cars; 8 took advantage of the CART service; and 20 relied on friends or family to get around.
Smith reminded the Council of the services offered by CART, which include fixed “runs” to grocery stores and medical facilities including dialysis; on-demand rides with two weeks’ notice; and a taxi voucher program that is currently inactive.
Smith also researched local medical facilities after a community member said they will pick up and deliver seniors. Parkland Medical Center does so, but schedules through CART; Southern New Hampshire uses Community Caregivers; and Elliot Hospital does not offer transportation, he said.
Smith also gave the Council an update on the offer of a free van. He said with the help of Administrative Support Coordinator Steve Cotton, the town has been able to secure a handicapped van to be donated by Ford of Londonderry. The van is fully handicapped-accessible, according to Smith and Cotton.
Smith said in his opinion, the town has seen “relatively low usage by CART. If we are going to provide a service, we should own it.”
The town service could be more flexible and more attuned to Londonderry needs, according to Smith.
Councilor Joe Green has advocated for keeping CART and starting a Londonderry-centric service. He pointed out that 411 survey respondents were only 1. 58 percent of Londonderry’s 26,000 people, and asked seniors to come forward with their opinions.
But he added that one man told him, “You have meetings at 7 p.m. Some of us are already asleep.”
Council Chair John Farrell said, “in a perfect world, we would have our own service and it would have more flexibility, expanded hours and a 48-hour ‘on demand’ window instead of two weeks. Can we do all that within $26,000 (the amount budgeted for CART)?”
“No matter what, we are going to own it,” Green said, pointing out that if the town withdraws from CART, it still has an obligation to provide transportation.
Councilor Tom Dolan observed, “With our changing demographics, CART no longer provides adequate transportation for Londonderry.” But he wanted to see a “problem statement,” he added.
Dolan and Councilor Jim Butler advocated a slow start, with Butler saying, “We want to do the best we can for seniors, and not just ‘jump in.'” He listed issues such as training, insurance, and finding out how many drivers will be needed.
Dolan suggested capping the amount at the current CART allocation “and see what that provides us. It will reduce our risk.”
But Green was willing to go all-in, saying he would like to see a warrant article for another $30,000 for Londonderry’s own bus service, and that if the Council doesn’t agree, he will present his own petitioned warrant article.
“Until we run a transportation system, we won’t know how much it costs,” Green pointed out.
“It’s not unreasonable to ask Londonderry to support its aging community,” Green said.
But Dolan’s view was that $26,000 in the budget, plus a warrant article for $30,000, would confuse voters. He suggested putting $56,000 in the budget and relying on Smith to see if he could make the program work. “I trust our Town Manager not to just spend the money because it’s there,” Dolan said.
Cotton said the donated van is a 2013 Freightliner that has been used mostly for highway driving, and has a Mercedes diesel engine. He said Londonderry Ford is ready to go.
While Green said he believes the town needs both and that he will start the citizen petition, Dolan said he could not support both.
And Green said, “If this is on the ballot, it will pass,” noting that seniors “do come out in the daytime.”
In the public comment portion of the meeting, community member and CART board member Martin Srugis said, “Is it really a ‘free’ van? There are maintenance costs, finding a backup driver, where are you going to keep it. It’s more than just accepting a van.”
Srugis said in a previous meeting that when Salem withdrew some of its funding, it affected other CART towns negatively. Councilor Jim Butler asked if that meant Londonderry was “subsidizing” the other towns, and he said his first duty was to Londonderry and its seniors. Srugis said it wasn’t subsidizing, but that there is a finite amount of money to go around.
Srugis agreed to bring a CART “numbers person” to an upcoming meeting. Farrell said, “We have a long working relationship with CART, and it’s our duty to see their response.”
The next Council meeting is Monday, Jan. 9, at 7 p.m. in the Moose Hill Conference Room.