PEPPERELL -- Two months after replacing Lowell Regional Transit Authority transport service with transportation through its own van, the senior center is reporting strong ridership.
Since Sept. 16, the van has provide Pepperell seniors with transportation to doctor's appointments, shopping trips and social outings, for a low fee.
"It's been so much better than i ever thought possible, beyond my expectations," Senior Center Director Marcia Zaniboni said. "The first few weeks we had some scheduling issues but we worked them out pretty quickly. Usage has been great."
The LRTA agreed to fund the program by reimbursing the Senior Center for the $26,000 a year it takes to run the van service. The town also provided $5,000 in startup costs at last spring's Town Meeting.
Although priority will be given to seniors and those with disabilities, the van is available for any adult in Pepperell in need of transportation, Zaniboni said. It travels the same routes the LRTA used to travel.
In October, the service provided 209 one-way rides to 30 people, averaging nine rides per day. Most trips were to bring people to and from the senior center or medical appointments, Zaniboni said.
The vans operate five days a week, except for holidays, and once a month a Saturday social outing is scheduled.
The senior center is also looking for ways to extend service for medical trips into Boston next year, by partnering with Boston transit organizations.
Taking control of the transportation has provided the senior center with more flexibility to meet residents' needs, Zaniboni said.
"I see this as a win-win for us and the LRTA," Senior Center Director Marcia Zaniboni said at a Sept. 3 Council on Aging meeting, where council members voted to approve the van drivers' employment contract, pending approval of town counsel. "We'll have more flexibility at a minimum cost."
Zaniboni asked that people call with requests of where they would like the vans to go so the routes can eventually address needs that are currently unmet.
"We really want people to let us know what their needs are," Zaniboni said. "We need to know more than anything who we're not serving so we can make adjustments."
Rides cost $1 each way for destinations within Pepperell, and $1.50 each way for out-of-town trips.
Residents will also be able to buy prepaid punch cards at a discounted rate.
"Our intent here is to provide good service for the people in Pepperell who need it," COA member Barry Fuller said at the Sept. 3 meeting.
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