Auburn-based transit service to take over Brunswick Explorer

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BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick Explorer will keep on rolling.

Starting April 22, the bus service, which runs Monday-Friday and costs $1 a ride, will be operated by Auburn-based Western Maine Transportation Services.

The change comes after its former operator, Coastal Trans of Rockland, announced last week it would be shutting down after 33 years of service.

The regional transportation provider said its decline began in 2013, when the state Department of Health and Human Services changed the way it provides transportation for MaineCare patients.

Once the primary provider for those clients, Coastal Trans started losing riders to other department subcontractors, such as taxi companies.

Executive Director Lee Karker, who has been with Coastal Trans for 22 years, said he’s “sorry to see it happen this way.”

“I think Coastal Trans provided a valuable service, and I think that this change in the way MaineCare is delivered makes it more difficult for people not on MaineCare to get transportation,” he said Monday.

Coastal Trans provided rides in Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties, as well as operating the Brunswick Explorer.

The state Department of Transportation, through spokesman Ted Talbot, quickly said it would look for other providers to take over Coastal Trans’ services. On Friday, March 25, Western Maine Transportation Services announced it would be the new operator of the Brunswick explorer.

WMTS runs the Lewiston-Auburn citylink bus service, the Sunday River-Bethel Mountain Explorer, and the Sugarloaf Explorer.

“It is our intention to retain the current staff and make as few changes as possible to the (Brunswick Explorer), unless it is to grow the system, as funding and opportunity allow,” General Manager Sandra Buchanan said in a press release.

She said service will be uninterrupted during the transition.

“As far as I can tell right now, initially there won’t be any changes at all,” WMTS spokesman Craig Zurhorst said Wednesday.

Coastal Trans had started a pilot public transit program with the town of Harpswell in May 2015. Harpswell temporarily suspended that program last fall due to low ridership.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said the town had been planning to approach Coastal Trans to discuss a new curb-to-curb model for the transportation service.

“There seemed to be a barrier for people to get to the pick-up point,” she said, adding that despite the low ridership she believes a need for public transportation still exists.

She said the town would be approaching the provider that takes over Coastal Trans about continuing the service.

But that doesn’t mean WMTS will be operating the Harpswell route, Zurhorst said Wednesday. A different organization, Waldo Community Action Partners, will be picking up Coastal Trans’ door-to-door service.

Waldo County Public Transportation “provides non-emergency public transportation to low-income, elderly, and disabled individuals in Waldo County as well as the general public” by bus, van, and volunteer drivers, according to its website, waldocap.org.

On Coastal Trans’ side, “I certainly hope there is a seamless transition,” Karker said Monday. “That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Operation of the Brunswick Explorer will shift to Auburn-based Western Maine Transportation Services on April 22.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.