Members of the Senior Affairs Committee said they are satisfied with the direction in which the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation (CART) is moving, and think recent concerns have been adequately addressed.
“I do think a lot of the issues have centered around unrealistic expectations and not understanding the difference between the shuttle and on-demand service,” Londonderry Senior Center Director Cathy Blash said.
Mark Nelson, executive director for CART, attended the Committee’s Nov. 7 meeting after learning there were “some rumblings” about their on-demand services.
“We’ve heard there is some feedback not getting to us,” said Nelson, who also met with Londonderry residents who use CART in May at the Senior Center to explain in detail the difference between their shuttle and on-demand services. “We tackled some people’s individual issues and came away, in my opinion, pretty much understanding each other.”
Nelson, who said he has not received any complaints from Londonderry residents, was surprised to learn the previous issues he had addressed in May were still causing concerns for riders.
He said he was concerned to hear people saying CART has stranded riders, and emphasized that in his time as the organization’s new director, there have not been any cases of riders being stranded somewhere.
“We don’t strand people. If we said we’re taking you home, someone is riding around up there waiting,” he said. “We also have a fail-safe taxi service that can step in if that happens.”
Town Manager Kevin Smith said Councilor Joe Green, who raised concerns with CART services at the Committee’s last meeting and called for the group to focus on researching alternative transportation options, communicated to him that improvements have been made and that “(Green) feels things have improved with CART from his perspective.”
Blash said when she contacted Nelson about a shuttle being 25 minutes late to the Senior Center, he responded immediately and quickly addressed her concern.
CART, which serves Londonderry, Derry, Chester, Hampstead and Salem, offers a shuttle service through Rockingham Nutrition that takes seniors to the senior center for the meal program and other activities; and curb-to-curb, a shared-ride service that is available to any resident of the five service towns.
CART also provides a fixed-route shopping shuttle in Salem and has contracted for half-fare taxi rides for the elderly, disabled and those traveling to medical appointments and employment.
The majority of Londonderry’s complaints seem to center around CART’s shuttle service.
“If people are inflexible, sometimes we have to deny a ride, because it’s not a taxi,” Nelson said. “We deny about 200 rides per year – 90 percent of people get the ride they want. The problem is, demand is high and supply is low. If you’re flexible, we can get you that ride.”
For example, if a ride is not available at the time of a patron’s doctor’s appointment, they have the option of taking an earlier ride and waiting a while for their appointment, according to Nelson.
“Some people are not happy they can’t get the ride they want, but that’s different than we can’t make a commitment to you,” he said.
Additionally, CART has faced challenges communicating with patrons when there’s an issue with a bus, as many of their riders doesn’t have cell phones.
“We will contact the doctor’s office, but maybe the message isn’t passed along. It’s a challenge,” he said.
And with a limited number of buses in operation, if one is taken out of service, the program is significantly impacted, according to Nelson, whose goal is to cut the number of denials for service by half, levels they last achieved in 2013. But with limited staff and funding, it’s not an easy goal.
Nelson is the only staff member of CART, and the organization’s service provider, Easter Seals, has had difficulty finding new drivers to support expanded services.
“The labor market right now is very challenging for us. Unemployment is very low. We have some drivers who have been with us for a very long time and are excellent employees. We are hiring people at this time and are looking at ramping up services,” Easter Seals Vice President of Transportation Fred Roberge said.
Additionally, Nelson said they will need to see that expanded services will be utilized before bringing another vehicle online.
“The shuttle is a little inefficient, but not nearly as inefficient as running an empty bus around,” he said.
“If we keep moving forward as described to us, that’s all phenomenal,” said member Sherry Farrell, noting the Town’s relationship with CART was so strained the Committee had tasked a subcommittee to research alternative methods of meeting transportation needs in Londonderry.
Nelson encouraged the Committee to communicate with him any concerns they have or hear from patrons of CART, adding he is supportive of communities that choose to offer their own solution to meet residents’ transportation needs.
“I think the future’s bright. If you get the development with (exit) 4A, I think we ought to reach out to employers to pay for some of this – maybe we could get shuttles to bring their employees to work,” he said.
“We want to hear the problems, and we want to solve the problems. Please call (Nelson) or (Blash) if there’s a problem,” said Art Rugg, who sits on CART’s Board as a representative of Londonderry.
In an effort to generate more feedback for Nelson from residents utilizing CART, Committee members Tammy and Tim Siekmann donated printing services to produce surveys that are available at the Senior Center and Town Hall.
Residents are encouraged to participate in the survey to help CART improve its existing services and identify what types of expanded services are in greatest demand.
For more information about CART, visit www.cart- rides.org.