An Elder Affairs Subcommittee has met with representatives from CART – Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation – and is working to resolve ongoing issues with transportation for seniors in town.
Elder Affairs Committee Chairman Al Baldasaro said just recently CART arrived to pick up a senior 45 minutes late, requiring Senior Affairs Director Cathy Blash to stay late with the senior.
“That’s just one example of many problems that have been coming to our attention in the last year,” subcommittee member Dolores Stoklosa said. “Right now we’re looking to address the issues with CART, specifically related to the senior center.”
CART Executive Director Annette Stoller said there’s a lot of misinformation about CART, for example, people think the transportation service is of a medical nature, which it’s not.
Of the four complaints CART has received and looked into, Stoller said one was found to be valid. “The rest were expectations of CART operating in a way that it doesn’t, such as the bus running at times people wanted it to, not at time it was running,” she said. “That’s what the meeting was about – somehow adjusting the schedule to better accommodate people.”
Additionally, Stoller said it’s a misconception that the towns fund CART.
“The funding the towns provide enables us to go to the federal government for funding,” said Stoller, who said she is running CART with limited staff.
Through their meetings with CART, the subcommittee has learned there are two separate services offered, one through Rockingham Nutrition that offers shuttles on a set schedule that have been taking seniors to the senior center for the senior meals and other programs; and the service by which patrons can schedule transportation, called Demand Response.
“Through Demand Response, the bus will come to your curbside and take you where you need to go. We do a lot of that in Londonderry,” Stoller said. “And two days a week, as available, we take people as needed to hospitals where they may have appointments, even as far as Manchester. But only on certain days.”
The shuttle program has limited hours and sometimes runs into traffic, inclement weather and problems with vehicles that interfere with operations.
In considering alternatives to the shuttle for seniors in need of transportation to and from the Senior Center, the subcommittee is considering supplemental programs CART offers through Green Cab, a transportation company based in Londonderry.
“The biggest issue with Green Cab is the price,” Stoklosa said. “It can be pretty hefty depending on where you live in town – up to $25 one-way. That’s not affordable.”
The highest rate listed on CART’s website for a ride to “out-of-reach” destinations, including Manchester, Plaistow and Windham, is $5 round-trip
“What we’re caught in is as close to a rural area as you can get with no real public transportation here for people,” Stoller said. “We’re starting to see inklings of that, but to get that we need funding. You have to pay the driver, buy fuel, buy vehicles – that might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. My really big approach for next year will be to seek funding from other sources, such as foundations and corporations.”
In talks addressing issues of seniors being stranded without a ride, Stoklosa said the subcommittee discussed with CART the need to improve communication between drivers and patrons.
“In working to resolve the communication issue, it became clear CART really needs to work on getting their message out and communicating more with clients and the public at-large,” she said.
In addition to considering alternative transportation options for seniors in town, the subcommittee is also looking at demand.
“We’ve had many complaints about various issues, like people not being picked up for doctor appointments,” Stoklosa said. “We’re looking at whether or not there is just a small number of people falling through gaps rather than a large number of people without transportation. I think there are just a small number of people falling through gaps.”
“It hurts any time I have to say no to someone who calls for a ride. That’s a hard thing,” said Stoller, who is hoping through fundraising and working with the Town that she can adjust the schedule and possibly expand services to better serve residents in need of transportation.
Recently, Stoller received a $50 check from a woman whose brother died and had been using CART to get to appointments for dialysis. “I know we’re making a mark on people and I really care about seeing what needs can be met,” she said.