Residents in the rural towns of Vassalboro and China soon will have access to rides from the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, or KVCAP, after approving contracts with the nonprofit organization at their Town Meetings.

Both towns looked into the Kennebec Explorer transit system run by KVCAP, which provides a number of services to Kennebec and Somerset counties, after hearing from seniors that transportation is an important issue.

The Kennebec Explorer bus is open to everyone and is funded mostly through federal transit grants, but it also receives some state funding and local support. Riders in Vassalboro and China would pay $1.25 one way.

At a meeting of the Friends Advocating for Vassalboro’s Older Residents — or the FAVOR — committee Tuesday morning in Vassalboro, Jim Wood, director of transportation for KVCAP, said the agency can start taking requests now for rides that will start next week.

Residents can call 800-542-8227, option 2, to request a ride, preferably two days in advance, Wood said.

The FAVOR committee pursued the transportation project as its first goal this past year. It worked with China and Winslow, which already has the bus transit system, to find a way to get the service into the two smaller towns.

“I think what we’re seeing throughout Maine is an aging population of people who want to stay in their homes, who want to stay independent, but have to face that awful choice of not being able to operate their car anymore,” Wood said during a Vassalboro Budget Committee meeting in March. He added that the new service will enable them to do things such as shop for groceries and get to appointments on their own.

The Kennebec Explorer program will work on a demand-response model, meaning that the 12-passenger bus will pick people up at their homes if they’ve requested a ride.

For now, rides will be available on Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. The bus can stop at the Hannaford supermarket in China and shopping areas in Waterville, as well as local spots such as food pantries or libraries.

Each day probably will be used for different routes and destinations to be efficient, Wood said. For example, one day may be mostly local stops in Vassalboro.

“It’s a benefit for riders so they don’t have to ride on a big circular route,” he said.

While the transit program will take “a little while to get going,” Wood said, he expects the service will gain popularity through word of mouth. The Somerset Explorer program, which also serves a largely rural area, now has over 6,000 riders per year, he said.

Wood plans to evaluate the success of the program periodically through both ridership and surveys asking residents what they do and don’t like about the service.

“I just think this is a very good service,” said Vicki Schad, a member of the FAVOR committee.

The committee handed out surveys about the idea at the polls during the November presidential election and received 65 responses, most of which came from people ages 36 to 69.

While most people said their primary means of transportation is a personal car, 12 — or 18.5 percent — said they had to rely on a friend, relative or neighbor.

A majority, by a 45-20 count, said there was support in the town for a bus service. The survey allowed people to comment on the idea, and some said that there seemed to be a need, especially as people age. Others, however, foresaw opposition to the idea because of a potential increase in taxes to subsidize the service.

Both Vassalboro and China residents voted to contribute money to the program at Town Meetings. China approved $1,545, and Vassalboro committed $1,350.

The budget for the addition to the transit program is $400,000, Wood said, which is funded mostly through federal grants.

“We had requested additional federal money and that has been approved also,” he said.

KVCAP also is working with Jackman and Bingham to bring the same system to those two rural Somerset County towns. The service started in May in Jackman, and it begins next week in Bingham, Wood said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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