Freeport meeting airs possibility of weekend METRO buses

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FREEPORT — Approximately 30 people attended a planning  meeting Nov. 19 for the proposed METRO express bus service from Portland to Yarmouth and Freeport.

The Greater Portland Transit District began its community outreach on Nov. 17 with an information gathering session in Portland. Last Wednesday’s meeting was at the Freeport Community Center.

The express bus service would begin in Portland and make stops in Falmouth, Yarmouth, and Freeport. The original plan, presented at a Freeport meeting in June, was for a commuter-centric, rush-hour service with morning and evening buses that would also serve Cumberland.

In September, METRO General Manager Greg Jordan said the revised plan is for weekday service from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., coinciding with the schedule of the Amtrak Downeaster passenger train. He said the full schedule of the combined services would be 6 a.m.-8 p.m.

Jordan last Wednesday also said METRO is considering weekend service. He said METRO will wait to hear the opinions of potential riders before making a decision, but that Saturday and Sunday service would mean fewer weekday trips.

“As we get feedback from you as to how important weekend service is, we’ll calibrate our service,” he said.

With weekday-only service, there would be 10 round trips each day. Options for weekend service would be eight round trips each weekday and four round trips on Saturday, or to have six round trips each weekday and four round trips each weekend day. Possible service hours for weekends would be 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Glenn Fenton, METRO’s chief transportation officer, said buses would be scheduled more frequently during morning and evening rush hours.

“It’ll be an express-type service during the busiest times of the week, and less service during off-peak,” Fenton said.

Bus riders will be charged $3 each way. Without stops in Cumberland, the travel time to Portland will be 35 minutes, with more time on Interstate 295 and less on U.S. Route 1, Jordan said in September. 

Four potential bus stops are being considered: on the Portland peninsula, along U.S. Route 1 Falmouth, on Route 1 in Yarmouth between the two Interstate 295 ramps, and in downtown Freeport.

In Brunswick, meanwhile, the Town Council on Nov. 17 talked with Jordan about extending service beyond Freeport. Council Chairman Benet Pols said joining the service is “of general interest” to the council, and will continue to be discussed through early 2015.

METRO set up four large maps at the Freeport meeting, one of each town or city included in the new service. Attendees were asked to place red stickers on places where they would want to board buses, and blue stickers on desired destinations.

On the Freeport map, most of the red stickers were placed downtown near L.L. Bean or at the Amtrak Downeaster station. There were also many stickers placed at the park-and-ride lot on Route 1.

At the meeting Nov. 17, Portland residents who placed blue stickers in Freeport wanted to go to L.L. Bean and other surrounding downtown stores. There were also stickers at Shaw’s on Lower Main Street.

Kelly Edwards, executive director of Freeport USA, said the bus will be help bring employees to Freeport businesses, and could be especially useful on weekends.

“Having employees from other communities come in on the weekends would be a huge benefit to us,” she said.

Freeport residents placed more blue stickers on the Portland map than on the other maps, indicating that most people would use the bus to go to the city, rather than to Yarmouth or Falmouth. Most of the stickers were at the Portland Transportation Center and downtown on Congress Street.

Stickers were also placed in the Old Port and on Commercial Street, and there were a couple on Hadlock Field.

In Yarmouth, most of the blue stickers were on Main Street. There were also some at the Hannaford supermarket on Route 1. On the Falmouth map, there weren’t many stickers. The few that were still on from the Portland meeting were at Wal-Mart and the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1. 

Jordan said METRO will now look at the feedback to determine possible bus routes. He said more meetings will be held with the public in the spring, when the designs are ready to be reviewed before being finalized.

“I think patterns are emerging and it’ll definitely help when planning bus stops,” Jordan said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.