ROCKLAND, Maine — Coastal Trans Inc., which has provided rides for the public for 33 years, will cease operating next month.
MCH Inc. Executive Director Lee Karker, which runs Coastal Trans, said he expects the services will be picked up by the new regional transportation provider to be designated by the Maine Department of Transportation. Coastal Trans will discontinue services effective April 22.
Fifteen employees, mostly drivers but including dispatchers, will be out of work. Karker said one driver has worked for Coastal Trans for 28 years.
The organization that will become the new regional transportation provider, which Karker declined to name until the state makes a formal announcement, has agreed to talk with Coastal Trans employees about possibly being hired.
The demise of Coastal Trans began after August 2013, when the Maine Department of Health and Human Services established a new system of providing transportation for MaineCare patients, Karker said. A set of regional brokers were selected to sub-contract services for MaineCare patients with local transportation providers.
Karker said over the past two years Coastal Trans has experienced a dramatic decline in revenues from transporting MaineCare clients to medical services, the backbone of its longstanding business model. He said MaineCare accounted for up to 75 percent of its riders. He said taxi companies have taken much of that business because they are able to provide the service at a lower cost.
Coastal Trans has used 10-passenger vans, which are more costly to operate than a passenger car, he said. He said the decision to close was made after financial losses mounted.
In the past year, Coastal Trans provided 23,000 trips for 791 individuals in its region, which covers Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties, as well as the Cumberland County communities of Brunswick and Harpswell. He said anyone who has paid in advance for rides will be refunded their money.
“The hope is that the transition will be seamless,” Karker said of the transition from Coastal Trans to another regional provider.
But artists at Spindleworks in Brunswick, a nonprofit arts center for adults with disabilities, are already frustrated with Midcoast Transportation, the transportation broker that works with various taxi companies in the area to provide rides to clients formerly served by Coastal Trans. At least a third of the artists who visit Spindleworks each day have long relied on Coastal Trans, according to Spindleworks associate director Brian Braley.
“The quality has gone down for a lot of rides,” Braley said. “The rides showing up now aren’t as accommodating as far as people being able to get in and out of the vehicle. Coastal Trans had vehicles designed to accommodate people with disabilities and now people are getting into vehicles that may or may not be accessible … they’re putting six people in a minivan.”
Braley said Spindleworks is working with Midcoast Transportation “to advocate for [the artists’] needs, and they’re working to do that, but they aren’t always able to accommodate people’s needs.”
Coastal Trans was created in 1983. The organization is a subsidiary of MCH, which also operates the Methodist Conference Home in Rockland, the Rankin Block in Rockland and other subsidized housing complexes in the Rockland area.
“The board and staff of Coastal Trans are deeply grateful to the many individuals, civic organizations, foundations and towns that have supported Coastal Trans since 1983,” Karker said.
The end of Coastal Trans is a stark reversal from a few years ago, when a group of regional officials created a committee to look at providing a more comprehensive public transportation system. That group came up with recommendations in early 2014 that considered an hourly bus service that would run at least from Wal-Mart in Thomaston to Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport. No progress has been made on that goal in the past two years.
Karker said he will be retiring as of June 30 after 21 years as executive director of the organization that is now MCH. He had worked an additional year for the social service agency before being named its executive director.
He said operating a nonprofit organization has become more difficult over the years with reduced funding and more regulations.
BDN staff writer Beth Brogan contributed to this report.