Freeport, Yarmouth hope to provide free METRO bus rides for low-income residents

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FREEPORT — Two towns are applying for a county grant to provide low-income  residents with free passes for upcoming METRO bus service.

Freeport and Yarmouth are seeking a more than $4,000 Community Development Block Grant through the Cumberland County Community Development Program. The money will be used when METRO bus service from Portland to Freeport begins on July 1.

The bus will make stops in Falmouth and Yarmouth, and is expected to take 35 minutes from Portland to Freeport.

The joint proposal from Freeport and Yarmouth would require a local match of $510 from each town. The Freeport Town Council unanimously approved the grant application Tuesday; the Yarmouth Town Council approved it Jan. 15.

“The project allows the participating communities of Freeport and Yarmouth to purchase bus passes for its low-income and elderly residents,” Freeport Town Planner Donna Larson said in the grant application. “Passes will be available on a first-come first-served basis to anyone eligible for CDBG assistance.”

Larson on Tuesday night said she was not sure what the income limit would be for eligibility. In the application, though, she said the grant would benefit more than 500 families in the two towns.

“Removing the cost barrier is important to allow a group that the bus is intended to serve to be able to benefit from the service, and is necessary to ensure the long-term viability of the route,” Larson said in the application.

A round-trip ticket between Portland and Freeport will cost $6. Larson said many people who said they intend to use the service have a disability, and that the bus would provide them with independence. The service would allow them to get jobs and have a reliable mode of transportation to and from work.

METRO General Manager Greg Jordan said his hope is also that low-income riders would gain employment and eventually be able to buy passes.

Larson said the free-pass program can benefit low-income residents in many ways.

“The new service will open up opportunities for employment, shopping, recreation and services to these people,” she said in the application. “This program will provide them with free passes so they can use and learn the system.”

Jordan said he thinks “it’s a great strategy to spur initial ridership.”

The service, which will begin with a three-year-pilot program, will offer weekday service from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., coinciding with the schedule of the Amtrak Downeaster passenger train. The full schedule of the combined services will be 6 a.m.-8 p.m. 

Glenn Fenton, METRO’s chief transportation officer, in November said buses would be scheduled more frequently during morning and evening rush hours, and less frequently during off-peak hours.

Jordan in November said METRO is considering weekend service, but Saturday and Sunday service would mean fewer weekday trips. 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 six round trips each weekday and four round trips each weekend day. 

Councilor Bill Rixon on Tuesday said a task force made up of residents from each town METRO will serve met recently to discuss bus stops in Freeport. He said three possible locations are in front of the L.L. Bean flagship store, at the train station on Depot Street, and at the Freeport Crossing shopping center on Lower Main Street.

“None of this is really firm yet, but at next month’s meeting there will be a possible draft,” Rixon said.

In the grant application, Larson said the towns will likely apply for the CDBG grant each year of the pilot program and will pay for the passes themselves in future years. She said will be important to continue the program, because it gives low-income residents access to more opportunities.

“Being able to provide these eligible folks with a bus pass removes another barrier,” she said in the application.

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.