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Concord Area Transit mulls route changes

Concord Area Transit is considering changes to its bus routes that officials say will correct timing and other issues resulting from route changes made last year.

Under the proposal, stop times would change and CAT’s “cross-town” bus route would end service to Concord Hospital, requiring riders to transfer to the Penacook route to reach the hospital. The new changes are based on feedback collected since the changes went into effect in November 2011, said Terri Paige, mobility manager for the Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack County, which runs CAT. Paige said the new proposal would make route schedules and stop times similar to those before the new schedule was implemented.

“So we’ve still got the same basic service area but the timings that folks wanted from the old schedules,” she said.

The 2011 changes combined CAT’s trolley service and Industrial Park route into a new cross-town route from Industrial Park Drive to Concord Hospital. With those changes came timing adjustments for the other two bus routes, which serve the Heights and Penacook.

Paige said “it was clear it wasn’t successful,” based on experience and rider feedback.

The last bus of the day left for Penacook too early for some commuters, said Ward 2 City Councilor Jennifer Kretovic, chairwoman of the city’s Transportation Policy Advisory Committee subcommittee on public transportation.

“What CAT has had to do for that last run of the day is they wait for the Heights bus to come to downtown until they make that last run,” Kretovic said.

The Heights route has been running consistently late due to traffic, Paige said, and the changes would account for that time difference.

Concord Hospital would be eliminated from the cross-town route because there were complaints that the route was too long, Paige said. Under the new proposal, the route would stop at South Fruit Street and then return to Main Street rather than continuing to Concord Hospital.

“The cross-town route seemed to have been a little long for people and we received that feedback from the drivers,” Kretovic said.

Kretovic said adjustments had been expected, and should help the routes “make sense for the riders.”

“We did anticipate that with such a significant change that there would have to be a final revision that would happen with these bus routes,” she said.

When the changes were implemented, Kretovic said CAT had expected ridership to decrease by about 10,000 rides between November 2011 and June 2012. But Paige said the number of rides remained about the same, even though the trolley service was eliminated.

“The economy plays a big role,” Kretovic said. “When you have difficult economic times it does cause more people to look at public transit as an alternative source of transportation. . . . And the other part is the cost of gasoline; we’ve seen it slowly increasing.”

The bus system receives most of its funding from federal grants, but also receives some money from the city of Concord. In the current fiscal year, the city contributed $125,350 to CAT’s programs.

CAT will hold a public hearing about the proposed changes tomorrow. Paige said plans will move forward if the changes receive positive feedback, and would go into effect Feb. 4.

“If we get feedback during the meeting that makes it clear that folks aren’t happy with this proposal, then we’ll go back to the drawing board and see what else we can come up with,” she said.

CAT is also working to add a stop at the Friendly Kitchen’s new building, Paige said. The soup kitchen began serving meals at 2 S. Commercial St. last week. Before the bus stop is formally added to CAT’s cross-town route, Paige said the closest stop is the Courtyard Marriott on Constitution Avenue.

The public hearing about the CAT bus routes will be held tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Red River Theatres on South Main Street. For more information about the proposed changes, visit concordareatransit.org.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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