Forecaster Forum: Proud that the bus stops here

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When I reflect upon the 12 years I’ve spent advocating for the Metro bus in Falmouth and mass transit throughout the Portland region, there’s one memento I treasure most.

It’s a letter I received from a resident when I was a Falmouth town councilor and the Greater Portland Transit District had served the town for three years.

A kidney dialysis patient wrote that although she takes the special RTP bus to get to dialysis and some doctor’s appointments, riding the Metro bus changed her life. Now she can stop off at Whole Foods or run errands on her way home. She visits Portland friends at the Barron Center or invites them to join her for a cup of soup in Falmouth.

“The Metro allows us the freedom to visit each other without having to ask other people for rides. On my own, a couple of times per summer, I also enjoy visiting the wharf to ‘people watch’ cruise ship tourists from far away and listen to their various accents and languages. The Metro gives me the freedom to do so. It also gives me the freedom to ride from Hat Trick Drive (my stop) down to the Audubon Society in Falmouth. It’s fun looking at the gardens there, and seeing all the wildflowers, and hearing the birds.

“… I really could live without it (and did) but truth be told, the Metro has contributed greatly to my quality of life and I thank God for it every time I use a bus. I’m very grateful for compassionate and generous people like you for working so hard to provide a bus for those of us in Falmouth who no longer drive.”

That letter has made it all worthwhile. As elected officials and board members, we spend seemingly endless hours in meetings talking about budgets, weighing costs against benefits, etc., but in the end it’s all about the riders. That’s why we do this work.

Now my official Metro responsibilities are over. The June meeting of the Metro Board was my last. I have represented Falmouth in some capacity at Metro since 2007 and served as president from 2013-2014. I helped engineer the grassroots campaign that brought the bus to Falmouth and led the fight that soundly defeated a referendum that would have shut it down. I have worked with five general managers at Metro.

I leave Metro in good hands. Since Greg Jordan was hired three years ago, Metro has become a well-respected leader in mass transit in Maine. Greg and his staff have managed to professionalize the administration and operation of the Metro bus system, making it efficient, cost-effective and user-friendly.

One of my most awkward moments occurred several years ago when two cruise-ship passengers who spoke no English rode the No. 7 expecting to go to Freeport. When they arrived at Shaw’s in Falmouth the bus driver and I tried to explain the quintessential Maine dilemma: they couldn’t get there from here.

Today, they actually could get to Freeport if they transferred to the Metro Breez. It’s the new express bus with the weird spelling that began running last month from Portland to Yarmouth and Freeport, making some stops in Falmouth.

Waiting for the bus is less frustrating now, too. Riders can check their smart phones to find out when the bus or ferry will arrive.

In Falmouth, on-time performance has greatly improved. The route has been streamlined so the bus can run on schedule.

The bus now runs on Sundays – on all routes, not just a few. At the request of a Falmouth mother who wanted to take the bus to church, Metro soon will start and end an hour earlier. After analyzing the data, Metro decided riders throughout the system would be best served by the change.

There is always room for improvement. The Falmouth bus needs to run every 30 minutes, instead of every hour, to bring it up to par with the rest of the system and to make it more convenient to ride.

But I’m still proud to have been a part of the Metro transit team that has brought better service for riders in Falmouth and beyond. After all, the riders are what it’s all about.

Bonny Rodden is a former Falmouth town councilor and member of the Greater Portland Transit District board of directors.