Facts are stubborn things and the facts associated with Metro service in Falmouth differ greatly from the feelings proponents have for the bus.
Proponents see the Falmouth Flyer as a social service, an environmental contribution and an economic investment in Falmouth’s future. For some it is a need.
At the Town Council’s Nov. 28 meeting we will decide whether or not to give the required 12 month notice to Metro to discontinue service. Why would we want to end this seven-year experiment?
The cost of Metro service in Falmouth has steadily grown from $120,000 a few years ago to approximately $137,000 for next year. These costs will continue to rise.
Metro makes 13 round trips, six days a week, from downtown Portland and around the east side of Falmouth. Most often, the bus is all but empty when traveling the vast majority of its Falmouth route.
According to Metro data, the average number of riders per round trip since 2008 is 22; that’s only an average of 11 people travelling each way during any given hour during the last four years. In the last year, the average has increased by one rider. Very few of the riders are Falmouth residents.
As the route also includes commuters from East Deering and Munjoy Hill in Portland, not all 11 riders are bound for Falmouth.
The buses burn fossil fuel (diesel or natural gas) every trip whether or not they are carrying passengers.
Though some residents of OceanView like the idea of Metro, very few are regular users. They also have their own shuttle service.
Of 11 town services listed in Falmouth’s Comprehensive Plan survey, public transportation was ranked next to last by those who participated in this aspect of the survey. However, a majority of those who valued public transit were willing to raise taxes for that service.
Overall ridership in Metro’s service area (Portland, Westbrook and Falmouth) has declined by 63,000 fares (5 percent) when compared to its four-year high in 2008.
A great deal of effort has gone into marketing and promoting this service, yet nothing seems to have created the critical mass it takes to justify the operating expense. The route was even expanded up Route 1 and onto Johnson and Foreside roads. Unfortunately, it hasn’t made a difference.
Proponents cite steady percentage increases in ridership, but the Metro report says the Falmouth route has generated only an additional 608 fares (one-way trips) compared to the same period last year. That increases the daily average by only one rider.
Proponents suggest that Metro service will contribute to economic development along Route 1. Most of those 11 average riders are workers or shoppers going between Portland and Walmart. That is a wonderful service, but it is not economic development and it is unlikely to increase anytime soon.
Proponents also cite the small percentage that Metro represents in the town budget. That is true, but both Washington and Augusta are signaling that revenue sharing is going to be cut, subsidies are going to be reduced and municipalities are going to be forced to absorb those costs.
The town already has assumed responsibility for repairs to state roads. During the last budget cycle, Falmouth school officials said they expected a loss of $500,000 in federal aid for this coming year. Though the Falmouth schools have kept their budget flat, hard choices will have to be made this year about taxes, school programs and teaching positions.
Public transit is justifiable in communities where there is a sufficient population density of low to moderate income residents for whom bus service makes economic sense.
As one of the most affluent, yet rather sparsely populated areas in the state, Falmouth’s demographics fail the test and are not going to change any time soon. In addition, our teens have no interest in riding the bus and their parents are reluctant to allow them to do so.
Public transportation as a concept is desirable but it has failed in practice here in Falmouth.
Tony Payne is a Falmouth town councilor and former Town Council chairman.