FALMOUTH — A year into a three-year pilot program, the Greater Portland Transit District says its Breez commuter bus between Portland and Freeport is a success.
With one notable exception.
The thrice-daily stop in Falmouth is experiencing such low ridership that METRO is considering dropping the Falmouth loop altogether.
METRO General Manager Greg Jordan this week said total ridership on the Breez over the past year was about 22,000 passengers. The hope is to add even more riders when the route is extended to Brunswick later this summer.
But Falmouth boardings represent only about 1 percent of the total number of riders.
“In the case of Falmouth,” Jordan said, “we’ve concluded that it’s prudent to eliminate this segment.”
Launched in mid-June 2016, Breez makes nine trips each weekday and five on Saturdays, with stops at the Falmouth Shopping Center on U.S. Route 1 three times each day.
METRO was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the plan to eliminate the Breez stops in Falmouth on Tuesday, but it will also take input on the proposal through June 30.
Anyone interested in commenting can contact METRO at 774-0351, firstname.lastname@example.org or in person at 114 Valley St., in Portland.
Jordan said eliminating Breez service to Falmouth would be beneficial because “one of the principal goals (of the bus) is to provide fast transit service between Freeport, Yarmouth and Portland.”
In addition, he said, “Falmouth is already served by METRO’s Route 7 and the Breez’s deviation into Falmouth makes it a slower option for passengers traveling to the other communities.”
If Metro maintains the Falmouth segment, he added, “then we risk losing the more significant ridership growth we want to see in Portland, Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick.”
Nathan Poore, Falmouth’s town manager, said he believes eliminating the Breez stops in town would not create too much of a hardship. He noted Falmouth doesn’t contribute any funding to the service.
“The decision to eliminate the stop will provide enhanced services for other areas (along the route) where there is greater demand,” Poore said this week.
He added the town would continue “working with METRO in the future to analyze current and projected demands for public transportation” in and around Falmouth.
Poore said since the “primary objective for the Breez is to provide fast and affordable express service to commuters between Portland and the small urban centers to the north,” it simply makes sense to drop the stops in Falmouth.
Jordan said by dropping the Falmouth loop and extending the Breez to Brunswick, “we expect ridership to build and grow over the next two to three years.”
That’s because “the Breez allows people a productive and stress-free trip compared to the hassles and zero productivity of driving,” Jordan said.
He said METRO would likely make the final decision about whether to drop Breez service to Falmouth by July 5.
However, Jordan said, “We also recognize there are some Falmouth residents and workers who use and value having the Breez (and) we want to hear from those individuals before we make a final decision.”
If the Falmouth stops are eliminated, Jordan said, the move would become effective Aug. 24, the same day METRO plans to extend the service to Brunswick.
With the elimination of the Falmouth stops, he said the Breez would then “travel via Interstate 295 between Portland and Yarmouth on all trips.”
The Breez bus heads to the Falmouth Shopping Center on U.S. Route 1 Monday, June 19. METRO is preparing to eliminate the Falmouth stop because of low ridership.