GREAT BARRINGTON — With a shutdown looming of a crucial transportation service for seniors and the disabled, the town is stepping up to launch its own program — which eventually could serve other communities as well.

Town Manager Mark Pruhenski has arranged for the new service beginning Oct. 1 that initially will transport only residents of Great Barrington and Housatonic.

But, he hopes to soon expand for residents of surrounding towns that contract to use the service, including Alford, New Marlborough, Monterey, Otis and Sandisfield. Egremont instead is using a grant-funded taxi service that Mount Washington likely will share. Sheffield has its own van and town-run service.

The new service, Pruhenski said, eventually could be a better and cheaper way to help seniors get around.

After operating for nearly four decades, the nonprofit Southern Berkshire Elderly Transportation Corp. announced this month that it would discontinue its service as of Sept. 30.

The service, which has been running out of the Claire Teague Senior Center, transports residents to medical appointments, grocery shopping and on other necessary trips. It is paid for by fees from member towns, and a small per-trip fee of $7 from passengers, as well as from private donors and state grants.

The service shut down abruptly in March, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, and resumed operation in June.

The permanent shutdown is due, in large part, to the impact of the pandemic, Executive Director Dawn Vallinagi said in her announcement. She also said the service is part of a "changing vision" for senior transport shared by the town and Polly Mann-Salenovitch, director of the senior center.

Vallinagi said Tuesday that she is sorry for the shutdown, given how crucial it is for seniors, but she declined further comment about how the situation came about. Mann-Salenovitch also declined to comment.

Pruhenski said the nonprofit's sudden March shutdown took the town by surprise. It's new contract with the company, arranged last year, was $60,900 for six months.

Financially, Pruhenski said, the new structure could be a blessing. There no longer will be a director, multiple drivers and dispatchers to pay, he said. It will pay part-time drivers, with volunteers filling in the rest. The town's Council on Aging will manage calls and appointments.

Pruhenski hopes to replicate the service and expand it to weekends and with trips to cultural events.

The town will be granted the use of three state-owned vans obtained through the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority. The vans will be tuned up and relettered in the coming weeks, Pruhenski said. The town also has its own van. And part-time drivers and volunteers will be screened.

He noted that officials are working on a "Band-Aid approach" to help shuttle seniors around in early October until the service is fully up and running.

He also plans to host a video call about the service with officials from surrounding towns, as well as state legislators Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

In far-flung Sandisfield, Town Administrator Joanne Grybosh said she wasn't sure how many residents use the service, but hoped that the call would be fruitful.

Egremont quickly got a $25,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation in March to pay for taxis and CRT Cabulance vehicles to drive seniors around, said George McGurn, chairman of the town Select Board.

The pandemic-related grant is funded by Uber and Lyft, and McGurn said it has made all the difference after the limited service provided by Southern Berkshire. The town also plans to apply to the BRTA for a state van, he added.

The BRTA is the conduit for towns to get community vans from the state, which buys them with mostly federal money, said BRTA Administrator Robert Malnati.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.