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METRO eyes July 2015 for launch of 4-town commuter bus

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METRO eyes July 2015 for launch of 4-town commuter bus

FREEPORT — The Greater Portland Transit District will seek formal approval next month for a new express bus service from Portland to Freeport, with stops in Falmouth, Cumberland, and Yarmouth.

The proposal was introduced in a June 26 meeting between METRO transit district representatives and officials from the four towns. The bus service will seek support from each town council between July and August for a three-year pilot program. If all goes as planned, the new service will launch in July 2015.

At last week's meeting, METRO made a presentation to town managers and councilors from each town to discuss what it calls a "commuter-focused a.m./p.m. service."

"It's fairly still conceptual at this point," Greg Jordan, METRO general manager, said.

Buses would travel on Interstate 295 and U.S. Route 1. The service is "envisioned as a limited-stop service," to make time spent on the bus shorter for riders, and will operate weekdays at 30-minute intervals between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 3:30-6:30 p.m.

METRO estimates it would take 40 minutes to get from Portland to Freeport.

The transit district is expecting 120 boardings per day and 30,000 boardings per year in the first year, based on census data showing nearly 9,000 work trips between Freeport, Yarmouth, Cumberland, Falmouth, and Portland each day.

Based on ridership of the Zoom-Shuttle Bus service from Biddeford/Saco to Portland, METRO estimates that 1 to 5 percent of commuters would use the new transit service.

"It's a little art, a little science in estimating how many people would use public transit," Jordan said.

For the pilot phase of the service, the annual operating costs would be $300,000. The proposed annual cost to Cumberland, Yarmouth, and Freeport would be $20,000-$40,000 each. Portland and Falmouth were not included in that cost because of existing bus stops in those towns. METRO also expects to receive $675,000-$700,000 in federal grants for the service.

Besides the cost of diesel fuel, METRO's primary costs would be for buses and bus stops. Four 20-30 passenger highway-express buses would be purchased at an estimated cost of $200,000 per bus. The buses will be wheelchair-accessible, have bike racks, and probably WiFi.

The cost of placing bus stops would be $20,000 to put up signs and schedules. METRO hopes to utilize park-and-ride locations along the proposed route as bus stops.

Fares would be zone-based. A one-way trip from Freeport to Portland would cost $4, a trip from Cumberland or Yarmouth $3, and a trip from Falmouth to Portland $2. Monthly passes would be available, and METRO is also planning to work with major employers, such as L. L. Bean, to develop partnerships on passes for employees.

The estimated annual fare revenue for the pilot program is $60,000-$70,000.

Jordan said METRO believes there are many benefits for riders and the communities the route would service: the health benefits that would come from walking or biking to a bus stop, reduced impact on the environment, less traffic, and less risk of being involved in an accident, not to mention affordable access to jobs and a more productive commute.

"It's a great thing for commuters in particular because of the productive time they could have," Jordan said.

Reaction from the town managers and councilors at the meeting was largely positive.

"I think the pilot program is a no-brainer," Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane said. "We can see how it will impact our communities."

Freeport Town Manager Peter Joseph said he likes METRO's proposal because the morning and evening schedule would complement the schedule of the Amtrak Downeaster. METRO's background materials said the transit district considered the train schedule in the design of the commuter bus service.

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