Published DateBy Daymond Steer
TAMWORTH — The Blue Loon is suspending its "flex routes" that run between Conway and Wolfeboro because of lack of ridership and funding. The suspension will be implemented on Friday evening and will last until further notice.
The Blue Loon is a program of Tri-County Community Action. For about a year, the Blue Loon has operated a so-called "flex route" service, which has buses that run back and forth from Ossipee to Conway and Ossipee to Wolfeboro. It's called a flex route because the buses can deviate off the route by a fraction of a mile to pick people up or drop them off.
"The temporary suspension of services is due to lack of funding and ridership," said CAP's director of transportation Bev Raymond in a March 21 memo. "The core of the funding issue is that the funds that are obtained from the State of New Hampshire for these transit programs only partially fund them. The support ranges from 50 to 80 percent for operating expenses and administrative and capital expenses, respectively. CAP has to find cash to cover the unfunded balances. Possible sources of this cash include donations, sponsorships, charter contracts, and county and municipal grants."
Raymond says CAP is trying to find alternative sources of funding for the programs that were suspended, which include some that aren't in the Mount Washington Valley.
Raymond and Jack Rose, Chairman Carroll County Transportation Action Committee, answered a reporter's questions by email.
The Blue Loon's dial-a-ride and commuter route to Laconia will continue to operate, said they said.
"There will be no interruption to the present levels of dial-a-ride services," they said.
During town meeting season, voters in a number of Carroll County towns each voted to give the Blue Loon $3,000 contribution toward its dial-a-ride program. Conway residents have yet to vote.
"The funds that were requested and the towns have been very generous at giving are for the dial-a-ride service," they said. "We are continuing in the towns that support the service at the current levels as they have been operating."
They expect the dial-a-ride service will be giving more rides now that the flex routes have been suspended. They said people should remember that the dial-a-ride service only operates in certain zones and does not cover the same distance as the flex routes.
They said despite the suspension, the Blue Loon hasn't had to lay anyone off.
"Fortunately we were able to provide hours for all the steady drivers, with two of them working as substitutes covering for vacation, sick time, and it is important to note we will still perform our senior trips and contracted services which will add extra hours," they said.
They don't believe a year was long enough to give the flex route a fair hearing. They noted that the flex-route system started up a year later than anticipated. The delay impacted the dial-a-ride service, which was supposed to function in tandem with the flex route.
"The ridership on some of the scheduled times and routes have not had an opportunity to develop as we had hoped," they said. "Historically it takes five years for a start up company to get its business fully operating. Although the transit service is not the same type of business, the introduction of a rural non-profit bus system can find it even more difficult."