Greater Portland METRO proposes fare, payment changes

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PORTLAND — The first Greater Portland METRO fare increase since 2010 would also add discounts for younger riders and move toward digital payments.

Local bus fares would increase 50 cents to $2, with the METRO BREEZ express increasing from $3 to $4. BREEZ connects Brunswick and Portland via stops in Falmouth, Freeport and Yarmouth.

METRO would add half-price fares for riders ages 6-18 for all services. Those fares are now available to riders with disabilities or age 65 and older.

As outlined by METRO Marketing Director Denise Beck in a March 8 news release, the changes also cap local fares at $6 per day and $60 monthly. The local caps would be $3 daily and $30 monthly for those eligible for reduced fares.

Full-price BREEZ fares would be capped at $12 per day and $120 per month. Riders eligible for discounted fares using the app or smart card would pay no more than $6 per day and $60 per month.

Riders must use a new app or smart card for the fare caps. The smart card is seen by METRO as a way to increase access to public transportation for low-income riders, who will no longer need to pay higher upfront costs for passes.

The smart cards and app could be linked to bank accounts and credit or debit cards, and riders would also have the option of adding to a smart card balance with cash where the cards are sold.

Beck said the cards would be available where passes are presently sold. Locations can be found at https://bit.ly/2FecBvs, and Beck said METRO expects to expand the sales locations.

Cash fares will still be accepted, and Beck said scanners for the card and app will have to be installed on buses.

The plan will also eliminate transfer slips in favor of a 90-minute window for unlimited rides on local buses after the initial fare is paid. A BREEZ fare would come with a two-hour window for unlimited rides. Passes sold in 10-day and monthly increments will be eliminated, too.

METRO just set a record for annual use with 1.9 million riders and has expanded service to include the Breez, the Husky line linking Portland and Gorham, and a new line linking western Portland, Westbrook and the Maine Mall in South Portland.

The next public meeting about fares will be held 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20 at Lunt Auditorium, 74 Lunt Road, Falmouth.

Additional upcoming meetings will be held 5-7 p.m. Monday, March 25 at Freeport Town Hall, 30 Main St., and 5-7:30 p.m. March 26 at the Gorham Municipal Center, 75 South St.

Beck said the final METRO Ridership Committee meeting will be held 5:45-7 p.m. Wednesday, April 10 at Portland’s East End Community School, 195 North St.

Those unable to attend a meeting are invited to learn more about new fares and payment methods at https://bit.ly/2UDNtDq. The link also offers an online survey on the new fares that will be open until April 10.

The METRO Board of Directors is expected to vote on the new fares April 25, Beck said.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Along with proposed fare increases for local and BREEZ service, Greater Portland METRO plans to offer new payment options and cap daily and monthly fares for riders.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.