AUGUSTA — A new bus service that provides residents of Augusta’s several senior citizen housing complexes rides on weeknights and weekends, when buses otherwise wouldn’t be running, isn’t drawing as many riders as officials had hoped.

While in one month, June, 60 residents used the service, in July only 18 seniors used it, including several days when the buses were scheduled to run but didn’t because no residents had expressed interest in using them ahead of time.

Advocates for the service said they’d like to keep it going and said they’ll explore why ridership hasn’t been higher.

Jim Wood, transportation development director for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, the regional agency that oversees the fledgling senior citizen transportation program, updated Augusta city councilors on the number of local residents who have gotten rides through the program so far at Thursday’s council meeting.

He said results have been mixed and suggested the money spent on the program might be better spent if it were invested in improvements to the agency’s larger regional transportation system.

“My gut feeling is, for the return on investment, if we see how we can improve the general service, that might have a better bang for the buck at this point,” compared to investing in the senior transportation program, said Wood, a 44-year KVCAP employee.

Residents who use the service, meanwhile, said it has opened up opportunities for them to get out to a restaurant for a meal out with others, and go shopping on weekends.

“It’s a really nice program, something we really look forward to,” said Ron Harvey, a resident of Margaret Chase Smith House.

Liz Harper, resident services coordinator for Arch Beta Apartments, said Augusta is lucky to have the service, which addresses a need she and others had talked about for a long time — the ability of senior citizens who don’t drive, and may not be able to afford other forms of transportation, a way to get places when the regular buses aren’t running.

“It’s getting some people who were homebound a lot out on weekends and nights,” she said. “It’s such a great resource for people, it gives them the opportunity to shop on the weekend, and go out for a meal and socialize with others.”

The buses serve residents of senior citizen housing complexes in Augusta, on one weeknight and one weekend day each week.

In February Augusta councilors voted to authorize City Manager William Bridgeo to contract with KVCAP, for $10,000, for the new enhanced bus service to and from senior housing complexes in the city, in addition to $20,000 in annual funding the city provides to KVCAP to help fund its other transportation services.

Proponents hoped the commitment of $10,000 in city money to partner with KVCAP in providing the new service eventually would lead to a larger transportation system to help the city’s elderly residents get around when they no longer are able to drive themselves, and prevent them from feeling stranded in their rooms.

In the proposal, an initiative of local senior citizen group Augusta Age Friendly, the city partnered with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which already runs buses that provide transportation to the public in and around Augusta, and Waterville.

The program offers one new bus run one evening a week, and one during the day on Saturdays, to serve residents of the city’s nine senior citizen housing complexes. Residents of those complexes are grouped into one of four groups. And the buses rotate between serving the four groups, providing rides to one group one week, and one of the other groups the following week.

When the program started Wood said KVCAP would track who rides the buses and how many people use them.

Mayor David Rollins also said, then, if the program doesn’t generate enough ridership to make it worth doing, and isn’t successful, then it wouldn’t continue.

Wood said the service had 26 riders in April, 43 in May, 60 in June and only 18 in July.

For context, Wood said KVCAP’s regional transportation service, which serves people of all ages, provided about 68,000 rides last year.

Sarah Grant, co-chairwoman of Augusta Age Friendly, said they want to keep the program going and would contact senior citizen complex managers to see how more residents could be tempted to try the new system. Rollins said he would talk with Age Friendly members about the service.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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