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CAT seeks input on improvements to city bus service

  • Paul Audy, 53, of Concord boards a Concord Area Transit bus at the Eagle Square stop on South Main Street in Concord on Sept. 20. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Walter Decker of Concord walks to his Concord Area Transit bus at a stop in downtown Concord on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. Right now, the bus system is Walter's primary source of transportation. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • A Concord Area Transit bus picks up riders at a stop on South Main Street in Concord on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Concord Area Transit buses travel down South Main Street in Concord on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • A broken down Concord Area Transit bus sits on South Main Street in Concord on Sept. 20. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • A Concord Area Transit bus picks up riders at a stop on South Main Street in Concord on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Five-year-old Jaylin (left) and her brother Warren Doucette, Jr., 3, check out the engine of a broken down Concord Area Transit bus in downtown Concord on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The children and their parents had plans to take the bus home but ended up walking. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Saturday, September 30, 2017

Concord Area Transit is thinking about making changes to its busing services for the first time in seven years.

CAT, along with the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission, the City of Concord, and a third-party consultant, are in the middle of updating the CAT Transit Service Plan. The last time the plan was updated was in 2010; now, with declining ridership and new infrastructure in the city, the group is looking to make recommendations to improve service and bolster ridership.

It could mean bus riders might see longer hours, weekend service and service to Manchester Street in their future. But it will be a long time before any changes can be seriously considered.

“You always need to look at where the people are,” said Jim Sudak, CAT transportation director. “We’ll follow the customers wherever they go; we get rated on our ridership, we certainly don’t make money off it.”

Ridership is at a three-year low on the fixed bus routes, which includes the Crosstown, Heights and Penacook lines, according to city documents. “Rides,” or every time someone steps on a bus, has declined steadily from 104,741 in fiscal year 2014 to 80,456 in 2017, or 23.3 percent.

Other services CAT offers are more stable, but overall have also seen decline in recent years: the complementary para-transit service has seen ridership decline from 5,632 in 2014 to 4,954 in 2017. The senior transit system saw an increase from 2014, with 3,881 rides, to 4,567 riders in 2016, to 3,692 rides in 2017.

But Sudak said those numbers don’t reflect a lack of interest in bus services. He said major construction projects on Fisherville Road and the downtown revitalization effort over the past two years made the buses behind for up to 30 to 40 minutes in those areas. Those long delays turned people off from taking the bus.

“People would rather call a cab or get a ride from a friend,” he said. “I think with all that (construction) over, we’re going to see a big increase.”

To see what would drive that increase, the Regional Planning Commission is conducting an online survey through mid-October.

Initial results seem to support Sudak’s hunch: of the 70 people who took the survey, most of them seem to favor expanding service in some capacity. A question that asked respondents to pick three ways CAT could improve service had 67 answers; of those, 65.67 percent wanted to see weekend service; 53.73 percent wanted to see buses running more often; 47.76 percent wanted more bus stops, and 44.78 percent wanted buses to run more direct routes to their destinations.

Similarly, the question “If you do not ride CAT, why not?” showed 58 respondents felt the current bus service did not meet some of their needs. Of those responses, 62.07 percent said the bus does not go where they need to go; 50 percent said CAT does not operate during the hours when they need transportation; 34.4 percent said CAT does not operate on Saturday or Sunday; and 34.48 said they do not know where CAT buses go.

None of those responses surprised Larisa Djuvelek-Ruggiero, a regional mobility manager for the Mid-State Regional Coordinating Council for Community Transportation. She said most of the people who use the bus are low income or people with disabilities, with some New Hampshire Technical Institute students sprinkled in.

“It’s mostly people who really need it,” she said. “A lot of people who use the bus to go to work are low-income, and they need those expanded hours. ... People also think it would be great to have Saturday and Sunday services, because a lot of people are calling asking for rides to church. That’s a service they don’t have.”

She later noted: “Even people who have cars, but temporarily can’t drive, either because they’re injured, their car broke down, or their license got suspended, use the bus.”

One of the biggest asks Djuvelek-Ruggiero said she hears of is service to Manchester Street, where there are several small communities she said would benefit from the service. She said she couldn’t comment on CAT’s ridership numbers, but noted frustration with buses not being on time was one of the bigger complaints she’s heard.

According to CAT survey results, 68.57 percent of 70 respondents or someone they know currently uses CAT services; 76.47 percent of 68 respondents or someone they know have limited access to transportation. That limited access can cause problems: 67.31 percent of 52 responders said limited transportation causes them to miss medical appointments for themselves or someone they know; 61.54 percent said work; 57.69 percent said city services/appointments; 55.77 percent said shopping. Other categories included visiting families and friends, high education classes and other.

Sudak said the plan will not be completed until wintertime, but that doesn’t even guarantee any changes will be made to CAT. That, he said, is up to funding and higher ups in Concord.

The survey can be found at surveymonkey.com/r/CATPUB.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309 or candrews@cmonitor.com.)