By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — The town is threatening to withdraw from the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation, a move that could cripple the community bus service.
Selectmen told executive director Annette Stoller on Monday that the service isn't worth the $47,000 annual cost. Too many residents are told they can't get rides when they need them, Selectmen's Chairman Patrick Hargreaves said.
"My problem is for $47,000, we think the town of Salem should be your No. 1 priority," Hargreaves said. "This board needs to take care of our residents. We don't feel like we are being loved."
Selectmen then voted unanimously to instruct Town Manager Keith Hickey to consider other transportation alternatives and report back to them.
Earlier in the meeting, Selectman Everett McBride said he didn't think the town was benefiting enough from its contract with CART.
He suggested seeking a bid from the Greater Salem Caregivers.
"Let's see if we can do it more efficiently for less money," McBride said. "I'm not personally satisfied with the service at this point."
Selectman James Keller also questioned the service's overall value to the town. He cited statistics that showed 10 people accounted for 47 percent of the 723 rides provided to Salem residents between January and March.
Stoller said the town shouldn't base its decisions on figures from that time period because ridership is usually low in the winter. Ridership doesn't pick up until spring, she said.
"When the snow flies, people aren't getting out there riding," Stoller said.
CART serves five Southern New Hampshire communities. The other towns are Derry, Londonderry, Hampstead and Chester.
Salem residents are the most frequent users of the service, taking rides to go shopping or to medical appointments. CART relies on federal, state and community money, but several towns have stopping using the service in recent years, including Windham.
CART makes regular stops at the Ingram Senior Center and the Salem Housing Authority's 182 apartments.
Housing Authority executive director Diane Kierstead has said approximately 10 percent of tenants use the service and would have to find other transportation if CART were eliminated.
In the past two years, selectmen voted to restore money for CART in the town's proposed budget after Hickey cut the funding.
Stoller and other CART representatives have said the service would be in serious trouble if Salem withdrew. CART has an annual budget of approximately $639,000.
"I think we would be in a tenuous situation," Stoller said yesterday.
The service's shuttle bus makes stops in Salem on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Stoller said. CART also provides rides by appointment as part of its demand response service and also offers a taxi voucher service, she said.
Hargreaves said one person called his business at 5:30 one evening to complain because the individual was stranded at Parkland Medical Center and told a ride home wasn't available.
"I feel we can do a better job with a cab company," he said.
Hargreaves said he's received similar calls in the past and that Stoller has told the board the problem would be resolved.
"You told us last year, 'That's not going to happen again,'" he said.
Stoller said the service can only do so much.
"You can't ride every hour the bus isn't running," she said.
Stoller said she was surprised selectmen were so critical of CART.
"I was totally taken aback," she said. "The statistics are being played incorrectly. Statistics without an explanation is a blurred line of tables."