CVTC fills the gap for rural areas lacking public transit

Sara Lybbert of Peterborough has been driving as a community volunteer since 2016.

Sara Lybbert of Peterborough has been driving as a community volunteer since 2016. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Sara Lybbert of Peterborough first learned about CVTC when her roommate was using it on occasion. 

Sara Lybbert of Peterborough first learned about CVTC when her roommate was using it on occasion.  STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Sara Lybbert of Peterborough found the possibility of flexible part-time work through CVTC appealing, and she enjoys helping people.

Sara Lybbert of Peterborough found the possibility of flexible part-time work through CVTC appealing, and she enjoys helping people. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Community Volunteer Transportation Company Executive Director Ellen Avery at the CVTC offices in Peterborough.

Community Volunteer Transportation Company Executive Director Ellen Avery at the CVTC offices in Peterborough. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

The Community Volunteer Transportation Company logo

The Community Volunteer Transportation Company logo COURTESY PHOTO—

CVTC volunteer driver Jim Mason of Hancock.

CVTC volunteer driver Jim Mason of Hancock. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 10-13-2023 8:53 AM

The New Hampshire Transit Association, along with the state Coordinating Council for Community Transportation, the New Hampshire Mobility Managers Network and Transport New Hampshire have banded together to mark the first  Community Transportation Month in October. The month celebrates buses, volunteer drivers, shuttles, vanpools and bicycle and pedestrian networks.

The first week of the month celebrated fix route public transit, such as buses. The week of Oct. 8 to 14 celebrates volunteer driver programs, such as the Community Volunteer Transportation Company in Peterborough.

In rural areas lacking public transportation, volunteer driver services, like Peterborough’s Community Volunteer Transportation Company, have stepped up to fill the void.

“Volunteer driver programs really fill in the gap,” said CVTC Executive Director Ellen Avery. “In New Hampshire, there are 13 cities that have the population density that’s needed for public transit. The rest of the state – which is most of it, it would just not be financially feasible.”

But Avery said there are still people who, for whatever reason, cannot drive, do not own a vehicle or do not have consistent access to one. However, they still need to buy their essentials and get to medical appointments. That’s where CVTC steps in. The organization has been connecting volunteer drivers with people in need of rides since 2008.

Avery said the nonprofit, originally called the Contoocook Valley Transportation Company, covered 13 towns in the Monadnock region when it began. The first year it existed, it provided a relatively modest amount of rides – between 30 and 50, she estimated.

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“Then it grew,” Avery said.

Today, the organization covers 34 towns and has an average of 64 active drivers, providing about 300 rides per month, and logging about 10,000 miles per month.

The service runs on the back of volunteers, who give up their time to drive residents of Cheshire and Hillsborough counties to medical appointments, shopping trips and daily errands. Volunteers use their own vehicles, and are reimbursed 60.5 cents per mile for their trips. CVTC has a web portal where drivers can – at their own discretion and as little or as often as they like – select ride requests submitted by people in need of transportation. 

Sara Lybbert of Peterborough first learned of the service in 2016, when her roommate was using it on occasion. Lybbert wasn’t working at the time, and said the prospect of a flexible part-time work was appealing.

“I was a little bored, and I had time on my hands,” Lybbert said. She had some experience with the ride-share service Uber, and said driving people around is something she knew she would genuinely enjoy.

“I love to drive. I really do. I love to do miles,” Lybbert said.

And, with Community Volunteer Transportation Company, she knew that love of being behind the wheel would be helping people.

“I really like making sure that people who need it can get to the doctors, or take them on their shopping trips, so they can get food and they don’t go hungry. More than anything, we need some kind of community transportation here,” she said.

Many of the people she drives are elderly and have lost the ability to drive, Lybbert said.

“I can’t imagine, having been driving my whole life, and no longer being able to. And what are they supposed to do then? Be shut-ins? I’m fortunate that I’m still able to drive, and I can help people,” Lybbert said. “We live in an area where there’s no public transportation, but people still need to be able to get around.

Bob McWha of Greenfield, at age 70, has been driving for CVTC since 2008, making him the longest-serving volunteer driver. He said the work came at a time in his life where he really needed something to put his energy and effort into.

In 2007, McWha was in a serious car accident, which left him disabled. After a three-month recovery in the hospital, he returned to his previous company, though in a different role than as a machinist. After six months, he had to take another extended leave for a hip replacement due to complications from his accident, and a few weeks after his return, the company went through layoffs, and McWha was one of the employees cut.

His disability made it difficult to find new work, McWha said. His wife still works, and is gone during the working hours, leaving him with little to do.

“I couldn’t find a job,” he said. “I said, ‘I have to do something.’”

And that’s when he saw a flyer from CVTC seeking drivers. At a compensation rate of 14 cents per mile, it wasn’t a huge income, but it gave him purpose, a reason to get out of the house and often companionship as he grew friendly with his regular riders.

“I do it almost for pleasure, now,” McWha said. “People need help in the area – there’s no transportation. And I don’t think I really realized that at the time I started doing it, but I’ve driven hundreds of people – 99.9 percent of them are just very, very grateful for the service.”

In order to become a driver for CVTC, a driver must have access to a vehicle, pass a background check and carry a minimum level of vehicle insurance.

Those who use the service can be any age, and may need transportation for a variety of reasons including age, disability, economic situation or life circumstance. Riders are asked to limit their use of the service to up to twice a week, with exceptions made for treatments such as dialysis, which require multiple treatments per week.

There is no cost to use the service, but riders are asked to submit requests for rides at least five days in advance. Rides can include distances of roughly up to two hours away from the CVTC’s service area, including to hospitals in Lebanon, Boston, Springfield, Manchester, Concord, and Nashua.

To request a ride or learn more about becoming a volunteer driver, contact CVTC at 603-821-0569 or visit cvtc-nh.org.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.