Sullivan County Bus Service, Volunteer Driver Program to Shut Down Next Month

Aug 19, 2016

The Community Alliance of Human Services announced the decision last week.

A public transportation program that’s become a vital service for hundreds of people in Sullivan County is shutting down.

Community Alliance of Human Services announced last week its rural public bus service and volunteer driver program will come to an end Sept. 9 due to a lack of finances.

The bus service provides about 30,000 rides annually, running through Claremont, Newport, and Charlestown.

Valerie Bailey, interim executive director of the Community Alliance of Human Services, joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about the decision to cease operations.

What factors led to this decision?

It really has been a struggle for the financial struggle for the organization for the past three or four years. It suffered significant financial losses in 2014, 2015 and we are anticipating a loss for 2016. As I came into the organization last spring, we obviously took a look at that and looked forward to the future and could see there wasn’t a path forward for fiscal year 2017 to be able to bring forward a budget that could meet the services we’ve been providing and still be financially sound.

How long has the program been running?

I believe it’s been running since 1993. I think the alliance has been around longer than that, but I understand transportation has been on the road since 1993.

And it’s not necessarily a matter of needing an infusion of cash, but it’s more about sustainability. Is that right?

That’s exactly right. I had a wonderful gentleman call me and say if I brought you a tractor trailer full of cash, would it help. And I said I certainly wouldn’t turn it away, but you’d need to bring me that same tractor trailer of cash next year, and the year after and the year after. It is about sustainability.

So what happened to that? If the program has been in existence since 1993, I imagine it was sustainable at one point. 

These are people that need rides for dialysis, for cancer treatments, to get from our rural area of Sullivan County over to Dartmouth or to Concord or Lebanon to get to medical services and appointments.

  It was. As I understand the history of the community alliance, for many years, it had many different missions. It served family services, it had a youth court diversion program, it had a program called Trusting Hands, which provided in-home care for the elderly, so there was a wide variety of programs that served Sullivan County. I think as different funding sources either became tight and/or dried up, the organization was force to move those programs off to either existing organizations that provided that same service, and/or to another entity. As that happened, what resulted was that transportation is now having to bear the cost of the full administrative overhead for the organization.

And we’re talking about two programs here: the bus service and the volunteer driver program.

Yes, and the volunteer driver program, and I’m glad you’re mentioning that because it’s also a very critical service that’s provided to the residents of Sullivan County.

In what way is it critical?

These are people that need rides for dialysis, for cancer treatments, to get from our rural area of Sullivan County over to Dartmouth or to Concord or Lebanon to get to medical services and appointments. It also helps people who can’t get to the bus get to critical services like banking or grocery shopping. It is very much a needed program and they’re going to suffer, as well as the public that takes the bus.

What segments of the population are likely to be most affected? Are these mostly seniors and the disabled?

Exactly, that is the primary audience for these services.

Do you have any idea of the number of residents who are going to be affected?

We have 300 residents in Sullivan County who use our bus services on an annual basis. And then we have about 40 Sullivan County residents that use the volunteer driver services.

Of course, the worry now is how those people get to where they need to go. Is there anything that might be available for people once your program ends?

There isn’t any public service that I am aware of. We have made a lot of phone calls, as you can imagine, to try to find alternative services and we have not found them yet. I think that people will need to rely upon friends and family and taxis, which are expensive for folks who are living within modest means.

Your organization and the state Department of Transportation say you’re looking for another company to provide transportation services in the area. But how concerned are you that any organization that comes in is going to face the same challenges you did?

If we do face an interruption of service, I'm confident the leadership throughout the state will come together to continue to look for that solution. These people need these services.

  Actually, I think that’s where the survival of the mission comes into play. If we can move the transportation services to an existing organization, that existing organization will already have their CEO in place and their finance team in place and their HR team in place. I assume they will have a facility in place. So all of those costs that are being borne by transportation alone here under the alliance’s organization, those will not be borne by transportation alone in the next organization.

But there is no next organization in the pipeline right now, is that correct?

There are conversations ongoing. All I can say is we’re doing everything we can to work with DOT, who has been fabulous partners in this, to identify that next organization.

So do you feel confident something may happen before Sept. 9?

I am encouraged something may happen. It is clear that our county leadership, our community leadership, and our state leadership are all very concerned about what happens if we’re not able to find that next provider. So if we do face an interruption of service, I’m confident the leadership throughout the state will come together to continue to look for that solution. These people need these services.