On Election Day, Falmouth residents will vote on local Question 1: whether to continue or stop METRO bus service from Portland.
This is a crucial vote for economic development in Falmouth and for the welfare of the community as a whole; many residents and employees at Falmouth businesses depend on the bus for safe and reliable basic transportation.
Ending Falmouth Flyer service after eight years just doesn’t make sense: it’s successful, the cost is minimal for the service it provides, it’s vital to the business community, and it improves the lives of those who rely on it.
The business community relies on the bus for customers and transportation for out-of-town workers.
According to a METRO survey of bus riders from June 5-June 16, employees took an average of 53 one-way trips on the bus each day. In addition to Shaw’s, McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, the 19 businesses along the No. 7 route worked at Radio Shack, Waldo’s, CPAX, Smithwick, Pinegrove Cemetery, Falmouth by the Sea, Goodwill, Falmouth House of Pizza, Tyler Technologies, Maine Medical (Falmouth campus), Lifeworks Chiropractic, Portland Yacht Club, Subway, Staples, McDonald’s, Skillins Nurseries, Dunkin’ Donuts and Pratt-Abbott Dry Cleaners.
Without the bus, many of these employees would lose their jobs.
As Mike Skillin, co-owner of Skillins Greenhouses, observed at a recent Town Council meeting, “We can’t turn our backs on our staff who absolutely need the METRO. This is a piece of economic development that will continue to grow.”
The bus has become an important part of life at OceanView, too. We have a group of passionate riders who take the bus to buy groceries at Shaw’s; visit Route l shops; and go to downtown Portland and to medical facilities at Martin’s Point and other locations.
We even include public bus service as one of our amenities in our marketing material, because regularly scheduled bus service gives residents the independence they want when they no longer wish to or are able to drive.
You can measure the bus’s success by the growing ridership numbers. Ridership on the Falmouth Flyer has increased annually more than any of the other seven METRO bus routes. METRO states that ridership from 2005, the first full year of bus service in Falmouth, to 2011, has grown 44 percent, with nearly 79,000 boardings in 2011. The annual ridership increase exceeds the standard for success set by the Federal Transit Administration.
The average number of riders is 19 on each of the 13 daily runs of the bus, according to METRO. On particularly heavy days, it is standing-room-only for part of the run. As riders disembark, the numbers dwindle at the end of the line, but then increase again as people board for the ride back to Portland.
The bus has become part of Falmouth’s infrastructure, like public safety services, public water and sewer, and the town’s top-of-the-line public school system. Although OceanView is the town’s largest taxpayer, we accept that paying for services is one of the responsibilities of belonging to a dynamic community.
The many residents who live at OceanView d0n’t use the schools, even though most of OceanView’s taxes pay for the schools. Our residents understand that paying for schools is part of supporting the community as a whole.
In return, I don’t think it is too much to ask the community to spend less than one-third of 1 percent – $115,000 annually ($137,000 minus a rebate from the state) out of a $40 million budget – for a service that benefits businesses and a range of Falmouth residents.
I agree with Mike Skillin, who told the council “an outright ban on the bus is just extreme.” I hope you will join the OceanView community in voting no on Falmouth Question 1 to save the bus.
John Wasileski is the owner of OceanView at Falmouth.