EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 27, 2013

CART considers cutbacks

Riders will feel impact of funding losses

By Doug Ireland

---- — After the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation went months without an executive director, the organization’s new leader says they must cut back to continue growing.

Those cutbacks include reducing the public transit service in Derry from five to two days and possibly not expanding as planned in Hampstead, according to executive director Annette Stoller of Londonderry.

Those cuts come as less funding from the federal and state governments and local municipalities has put the bus service in a tough financial position, Stoller said yesterday.

“There is not one municipality that isn’t cutting back,” she said. “We are in the middle of changing a lot of things. We need to cut back to go ahead.”

The situation for CART became even more dire when Salem Town Manager Keith Hickey proposed last night the town not provide $48,000 to the service next year. He proposed cutting CART’s funding for this year as well, but the $48,000 was later restored by selectmen.

Derry slashed $12,000 from its annual CART budget. It now pays $30,000 instead of $42,000, according to Derry planning director George Sioras, who replaced Stoller as the board’s chairman.

Salem and Derry are the transit system’s two largest users, Stoller said.

Windham eliminated its $13,000 budget for CART earlier this year. Stoller said she gets calls from Windham residents, wondering why they can no longer get a ride.

Windham Town Administer David Sullivan said yesterday he received a few calls from residents last winter, but that was it. He said it only costs Windham about $5,000 a year to run its own service for town residents.

Other towns that use CART are Hampstead, Chester and Londonderry. While the shuttle services to Salem, Derry and Londonderry are free, Stoller said other rides cost anywhere from $2 to $5.

Stoller, the CART board of directors’ former chairman, was appointed to the part-time position in July. The change came nearly a year after former executive director Lee Maloney informed the 10-member board she was stepping down.

In the meantime, there hasn’t been a single person tasked with seeking the grants needed to fund the service, Stoller said.

Although Stoller said CART does not have a deficit, she said the organization’s finances need to get back on track.

“I am determined to see it progress,” she said.

Reduced funding has put on hold plans to establish a bus route in Hampstead, she said. But improvements are planned for the Salem shuttle service, Stoller said.

There could be other route changes as well, but nothing concrete at this point, Stoller said.

“We’re just starting to look at that,” she said.

Other possible changes at CART will be discussed when the 10-member board meets today, according to Stoller and Sioras.

The service will continue to make on-demand calls to Hampstead and other towns, where patrons call and schedule a ride. These are often people who need rides to medical appointments and have no other way of getting there, she said.

“We’re helping to keep people alive by providing this service to those who need it,” Stoller said.

CART will continue its taxi voucher program that began last year. This system serves riders who need to travel outside CART’s Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. schedule.

Stoller said she is still becoming accustomed to her new position and has been putting in a lot of hours, even though it’s only a 20-hour-a week position.

“I didn’t kid myself — we didn’t have the money for a full-time position,” she said. “I’m going to start riding the bus soon to become familiar with the fares, the buses and the routes.”

Sioras said Stoller, a real estate agent who supervised public transit systems when she lived in New York years ago, has the experience and determination to help solve CART’s funding dilemma.

Stoller, 72, is being paid $30 an hour, he said.