CLAREMONT — Sullivan County Transportation buses were put out of commission this week after thieves stole catalytic converters from six of the vehicles Monday night, according to a news release from Claremont police.

The thefts occurred sometime between 5 p.m. Monday and 5 a.m. Tuesday outside of a Southwestern Community Services building where the buses are parked along Charlestown Road, also known as Route 11, south of downtown Claremont, the release said.

Catalytic converters are exhaust emission-control devices located underneath most cars and buses. Thefts of the devices have been on the rise over the last year, due in part to the precious metals located inside the converters, some of which are worth per ounce more than gold.

Teri Palmer, transportation director for the SCS, said in an interview Tuesday that the thefts forced the nonprofit organization to stop regular service while the buses were taken to local mechanics for repairs. She said mechanics ordered parts for the buses by midday, and she hopes to have enough operable buses to resume service by Friday.

She said SCS operates a total of eight buses, but two were not in the lot during the theft. The organization needs four operating buses to resume service.

In the meantime, Palmer said, she and other SCS employees have reached out to volunteer drivers, almost all of whom offered to help Tuesday by giving rides to people who otherwise relied on the buses, including those who needed to get to medical appointments.

For some regular riders, news of the thefts is likely to come as a blow; the service operates around Claremont, Newport and Charlestown, offering rides that cost $2.50 between towns and up to $35 for an unlimited pass. Riders who are suffering medical issues may be eligible for free passes, according to SCS’s website.

In 2019, when the service had four buses, the annual ridership was around 29,000.

“It’s an awful thing to do,” Charlestown Road resident Scott Blanchette said upon hearing about the thefts. “I hope (police) catch them and make them pay back what they stole.”

Blanchette, who rides for free because he’s diabetic, said he takes the bus around once a week to go to the grocery store or the post office. He said the service helps him because he doesn’t have money to buy a car, and it helps others with similar transportation or mobility issues.

“It’s much-needed for people in apartments. ... Younger people need it; low-income people need it,” he said. “It’s a service we always need here in Claremont.”

Looking forward, Palmer said SCS plans to consider moving the buses into a temporary rental garage to avoid any further thefts.

The Claremont Police Department has asked anyone with information on the incident to call Officer D.J. O’Sullivan at 603-542-9538 or email him at dosullivan@claremontnh.com.

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