A Lewiston-based nonprofit plans to hit the brakes on a program that has provided more than a million rides during the past decade for seniors, veterans and others with medical and critical care appointments.

Community Concepts’ Transportation Program, which began in 1986 to serve people in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, will end next month. It has run short of volunteer drivers, due in large part to concern about COVID-19 that began in 2020.

“The pandemic really destroyed our volunteer base,” Chief Operating Officer Mary-Rita Reinhard said.

Reinhard said Community Concepts’ other programs — about 40 of them — will continue to operate and the organization’s finances remain strong.

But without enough drivers — and operating costs that have gone up by more than $12,000 per month because of fuel price spikes — it isn’t feasible to try to continue the program in the three counties, she said.

Reinhard said, though, that Community Concepts is working to find alternatives for all its clients and “has no appetite to leave anyone behind.”


She said there are nearly 20 other programs in the three counties that offer rides, and efforts are underway to make sure everyone who is dependent on rides from Community Concepts for regular appointments gets the assistance they need.

The statistics tell the story.

In 2016, Community Concepts’ program offered 264,000 trips to residents. Last year, it could only do 42,000. The pool of drivers was once as high as 170 and declined to 120 by 2019. This week, Reinhard said, there are 39.

“There’s just not enough capacity” to keep the program operating, she said.

Reinhard said most of the volunteer drivers are seniors, many of them retired, and they have been understandably reluctant to drive people around who might expose them to COVID-19.

“You can’t blame them,” she said.

She said the nonprofit hoped that numbers would bounce back after the pandemic began to fade, but it has not seen any improvement.

But even before the pandemic, the nonprofit fretted about a shortage of drivers.

In one document it filed with the state in 2019, it said the lack of volunteers has been a major challenge, and it cited an “aging out of older volunteers, and a declining public interest in volunteering and public service.”

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