METRO plans buses from Portland to Yarmouth, Freeport, maybe Brunswick

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PORTLAND — Planning for proposed METRO bus service to Yarmouth and Freeport began Monday in Portland.

At the same time, discussions began about expanding service to Brunswick.

The Greater Portland Transit District on Monday began its community outreach with an information gathering session at the Portland Public Library. It was attended by fewer than a dozen people. Another meeting was scheduled for Wednesday in Freeport.

“This is a nice thing for people in Portland, but for people up (in Yarmouth and Freeport) it’s more of a connection,” Glenn Fenton, METRO’s chief transportation officer, said.

The express bus service with “less stops and higher speeds,” according to Fenton, 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.

At Monday’s meeting, Fenton was asked if the bus schedule would align with when shifts end at large employers like L.L. Bean. He said METRO could make it work if it benefited enough people.

“I think we’ll be looking at certain businesses along the route and trying to work with different shifts,” he said.

Fenton said METRO is also considering creating a service that includes trips on the weekend. He said METRO will wait to hear the opinions of potential riders before making a decision, but that there’s a caveat to having Saturday and Sunday trips.

“If we offer weekend service, it would mean less weekday service,” he said.

With weekday-only service, there would be 10 northbound and 10 southbound trips each days. Options for weekend service would be to have 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.

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. 

Fenton said four potential bus stops are being considered. Buses would stop 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 Monday talked with Jordan about extending service beyond Freeport.

“It’s too early for us to say whether we want to join the service or not,” council Chairman Benet Pols said Tuesday morning. “It’s too late for us to just tag on.”

In a Nov. 13 memo to councilors, Town Manager John Eldridge said local cost to Brunswick could be a “stumbling block” to expanding the service. 

Because the state and federal funding for the three-year pilot project in Yarmouth and Freeport is capped, it could cost Brunswick as much as $200,000 a year to join the service, Eldridge said, referencing estimates provided by Jordan.

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 Monday’s Portland 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 Portland map, all but two of the red stickers were at the METRO Pulse station on Elm Street.

On the Falmouth map, most of the blue stickers were at Wal-Mart and the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1. In Yarmouth, most of the blue stickers were on Main Street. There were also some at the Hannaford supermarket on Route 1, and the park-and-ride near Exit 15 of Interstate 295.

In Freeport, most of the blue stickers were at L.L. Bean and other surrounding downtown stores. There were also some at Shaw’s on Lower Main Street and at the Amtrak Downeaster station.

Freeport Town Planner Donna Larson, who attended the meeting, said she was looking forward to getting feedback in Freeport on Wednesday.

“We’re working more with residents right now,” she said, “but we want to work with businesses as well.”

Staff writer Peter McGuire contributed. 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.