Extended Brunswick bus route breezes past predictions

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BRUNSWICK — For most people, the primary objective of commuting to work is getting there.

But Amanda Redlich, assistant professor of mathematics at Bowdoin College, likes her commute to be more productive.

Redlich is one of many Portland residents who have taken advantage of the METRO Breez commuter bus service to Brunswick, a two-year pilot program that began last August.

Ridership on the bus, which is operated by the Greater Portland Transit District, has nearly doubled since the Brunswick service began.

Redlich said it takes about an hour for her to get to work on the bus. Though her drive to campus used to take about 20 minutes less, she said she uses the extra time to get a jump on her day.

“The amount of time is more, but now I can do grading when I’m traveling or check emails or stuff like that, so I feel I’ve gained time,” she said.

Denise Beck, METRO director of marketing, said weekday ridership averaged 80-100 trips before the Brunswick expansion. After the Brunswick launch, numbers rose to more than 150, with some days over 200 trips.

The number of Saturday riders has increased, too; the Breez had an average of 50 Saturday riders before the expansion, and has climbed to more than 100 with the addition of Brunswick.

The fare is $3, and the route offers 14 daily weekday round trips and six on Saturday, with four stops in Brunswick, five in Portland, three in Yarmouth and three in Freeport. 

Beck said ridership data by bus stop would be available after it is analyzed, and a Breez stop will probably be added at Maine Beer Co. in Freeport later this year. 

The decision to add Brunswick to the route, which was launched to connect Portland riders with Yarmouth and Freeport in June 2016, was accepted by the Brunswick Town Council last July, following an initial vote in March

The program is partially grant funded and requires the town of Brunswick to pay $50,000 for the first year of service and $60,000 for the second. Bowdoin College will also pay $10,000 toward the Brunswick route for two years.

The contract will expire June 30, 2019, when the town will evaluate the route’s success.

The college signed on, in part, with expectations that the added Brunswick stops would help Portland-based employees like Redlich.

Matt Orlando, senior vice president for finance and administration and treasurer at the college, said he thinks ridership on the route will only get better as word of its convenience spreads.

Orlando said he thinks ridership is driven by Portland commuters, including Bowdoin faculty and students who need to get back and forth.

“We’re really pleased and we think it’s a fantastic thing for the community and for Brunswick,” he said.

Bus driver Michael LePage, who has been driving for METRO for 25 years, said the busiest times on the bus are early mornings from 6-8 a.m., and late afternoon from 3-5:30 p.m.

University of Southern Maine junior and Brunswick resident Allyssa Prather said the extended route is the way she gets to class at the Gorham campus three days a week.

“I don’t have a car, so this is the only way for me to get to school right now,” she said. “It’s very convenient, I live just right down the road (from the stop).” 

Prather added the on-board Wi-Fi and USB charging stations are a “big bonus,”  too.

In addition to added convenience, Redlich said drivers like LePage, who thanked her for baking him cookies when she boarded Monday, make commuting more pleasant.

“The bus drivers are all awesome; I really like them,” she said. “So that’s really nice, and I’m glad this route is here.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

Daily ridership on the METRO Breez bus has nearly doubled since the route expanded last August to include Brunswick. 

In addition to four stops in Brunswick, the Breez bus includes several stops in Portland, Yarmouth and Freeport throughout the week. 

Allyssa Prather, a Brunswick resident and junior at the University of Southern Maine, said she relies on the Breez bus to make it to classes at the Gorham campus three days a week. After arriving in Portland, Prather takes the university shuttle to Gorham. 

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