METRO revises bus plan for Freeport, skips Cumberland

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FREEPORT — The Greater Portland Transit District has revised its plan for METRO bus service north of Portland in hope the change will convince towns to pay for it.

The new proposal would eliminate service to Cumberland, but increase the frequency of buses to Yarmouth and Freeport.

“We’re looking to broaden the scope of the project,” METRO General Manager Greg Jordan said Tuesday. “I think it’s responsive to the concerns that we heard.”

The original project, proposed at a Freeport meeting in June, was intended to be a commuter-centric, rush-hour service with morning and evening routes serving Cumberland, Yarmouth, and Freeport as an extension of existing bus service between Portland and Falmouth. The project would have started with a three-year pilot program.

It would have required the participating towns to provide $27,000 in pilot funds annually, and $80,000 annually if the program became permanent. Another $675,000-$700,000 in federal funding would also have been required.

Yarmouth supported the proposal, but it ran into resistance in Freeport and Cumberland.

The Freeport Town Council on Aug. 5 postponed a vote on the original proposal until after a Sept. 16 public hearing. Cumberland’s Town Council narrowly rejected the proposal on Aug. 11.

In response,  Jordan said METRO has redeveloped the plan, and is now proposing hourly, weekday bus service from approximately 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

The new service would coordinate with the Amtrak Downeaster schedule, which was a concern of Councilor Scott Gleeson. Although Gleeson wasn’t present at the Aug. 5 meeting, a letter he submitted to council said he didn’t know why Freeport needed bus and train service.

Jordan said METRO understood this concern and looked at the train schedule when creating the new bus schedule. He said because of the train schedule, the bus wouldn’t run exactly every hour, but would work in conjunction with Amtrak.

Also, the last stop in Portland, after making a stop downtown, would be changed to the Portland Transportation Center. Jordan said this would give riders the option to then take the train or another bus from the transportation hub.

The bus fee has also been revised. Instead of the original zone-based pricing, riders would now be charged a flat $3.

“We want to make the service as simple and accessible for riders as possible,” Jordan said.

Jordan said not having Cumberland on the route would speed up travel time and save money, because the bus could stay on Interstate 295 longer and avoid sections of U.S. Route 1.

The service would save money in other ways, too, because METRO would only need three buses instead of four.

It is not known if the $80,000-per-town annual cost originally projected would change under the new plan.

Although Yarmouth in July agreed to be a part of the service, the new plan would require new approval from the town.

If Freeport rejects the revised proposal, Jordan said, METRO still wouldn’t “totally abandon” the plan. He said a new plan would be created to extend service only to Yarmouth.

The Freeport Town Council is expected to hold a public hearing and vote on the new METRO proposal on Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m.

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

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.