Nancee Campbell got an “on time” ride to her doctor’s appointment on Friday morning, something she sees as a good sign for the future, considering all the missed and late rides she endured for a year with the troubled MaineCare transportation program.

Friday was the first day new ride brokers took over for the troubled Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions, which lost $28.3 million in state contracts to arrange MaineCare rides because of subpar performance evaluations by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Before Aug. 1, Coordinated Transport Solutions had served patients in most of the state, outside of the York County and Bangor regions.

Patients, state officials, transportation groups, medical providers and legislators said they hope Friday will mark the start of substantial improvement to a program that affects 45,000 low-income families. Thousands of rides have been missed since last summer to doctor’s appointments, dialysis, physical therapy, cancer treatment and day camps for developmentally disabled children.

“So far, so good,” said Campbell, whose ride on Friday was coordinated by Bangor nonprofit Penquis Community Action Program.

Kara Hay, Penquis CEO, said they leaned on their experience with transportation and prepared extensively for Friday, scheduling more than 1,000 trips in one day. Hay said they worked closely with Waterville-based Kennebec Valley Community Action Program to start up the program.

“The Penquis and KVCAP staff teams worked very hard to ensure that today’s first day of brokerage services ran as smoothly as possible, and their efforts showed great results,” Hay said in a statement.

John Martins, DHHS spokesman, said in an email response to questions that the state had a comprehensive monitoring plan in place.

“We’ve been monitoring call volume, missed calls, complaints, ride delivery and other aspects of performance. We will continue to monitor all of these elements closely during this time of transition and beyond. We have seen good results on day one,” Martins wrote.

Campbell, of Augusta, said she’s happy Coordinated Transportation Solutions is gone. She said the Connecticut company never improved its performance, and even over the past two months many of her rides were late, to the point that her appointments were canceled.

“It was a debacle, no question about it,” Campbell said. The ongoing problems caused an uproar, with many complaining to the state, lawmakers and the media. After some lawmakers believed not enough had been done to fix the problem, the Legislature approved a bill to overhaul the MaineCare rides system, but was unable to override a veto by Gov. Paul LePage. Administration officials insisted that the system did not have to change, just the contractor.

On Friday, Atlanta-based LogistiCare, which already was serving York County in 2013-14, took over four territories that CTS previously served, including the Portland and Lewiston regions, winning one-year contracts from the state. In addition, Penquis won contracts to serve Bangor and Augusta regions for about $13.5 million. Another nonprofit, Waldo Community Action Partners, earned a $3.8 million contract for the midcoast region.

At LogistiCare’s offices in South Portland on Friday, where the company is opening a new call center, officials were still unpacking new chairs, and the 50 or so employees were treated to doughnuts.

“We used the doughnuts as a sweetener in case we had a bad day,” said Myra Orifice, LogistiCare’s general manager for Maine.

But Orifice said operations appeared to be glitch-free on Friday, as about 4,800 rides were arranged. Numbers on complaints about LogistiCare’s rides since taking over the additional territories were not available Friday. The complaints are self-reported by the companies to DHHS.

The company’s call center is located in a temporary space off of Southborough Drive, and renovations to space in the same building will be complete in a few weeks for LogistiCare’s permanent offices.

“It’s going so well it almost makes me afraid,” Orifice said.

The launch of the program last year was troublesome for LogistiCare’s York County operations and for Coordinated Transportation Solutions, with thousands of missed rides and volunteer drivers quitting in frustration. But while LogistiCare had improved its job performance by the fall, according to state DHHS officials, Coordinated Transportation Solutions continued to struggle, with many Mainers complaining they were continuing to miss rides.

Robert Harrison, a LogistiCare vice president, said that they made a number of changes throughout the year, and anticipated potential problems better than last year. For instance, LogistiCare boosted the volunteer driver and transportation agency network, increased the number of LogistiCare-owned vehicles to serve as back-ups and relied less on taxis, which were the cause of some complaints.

“It was very encouraging,” Harrison said of Friday. “We knew what to expect.”

Prior to August 2013, a patchwork system of local non-profits coordinated and provided rides for MaineCare patients, but the system lacked accountability, according to DHHS officials. In response to federal guidelines requiring more transparency and a better accounting of rides to prevent fraud and abuse, DHHS created the regional brokerage system.

Harrison said DHHS officials were monitoring start-up issues better this year compared to last year.

State Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, said that while she believes a system using more Maine non-profit groups arranging the calls would be better, the bottom line is if people are getting their rides, it’s an improvement.

“I’m hoping this works and people can get their rides to critical medical appointments,” she said.

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