Options for bus transportation explored
Rockport — Seven options for bus service between Camden and Thomaston were considered Oct. 10 by Midcoast Transit Committee members in preparation for an Oct. 23 public meeting.
The committee was created to determine the need for and feasibility of creating a regional transportation option for the towns of Camden, Rockland, Rockport and Thomaston. Two representatives from each town and Maine Department of Transportation staff commissioned a study by Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates.
The preliminary report by Nelson\Nygaard outlined potential routes and stops as well as operating costs per year, which ranged from $70,000 to $648,000.
Committee members questioned the source of numbers used for estimated daily ridership but the question went unanswered, as Nelson\Nygaard representatives were unable to attend the meeting. Jane LeFleur, representing Friends of Midcoast Maine, said that information is critical to understanding the options presented.
"That's the big question in my mind," she said.
Midcoast Transit Committee Chairman Don White said he would pass along questions to Nelson\Nygaard in the hope of having answers before the public meeting later this month.
Another concern cited was the low population density of the four towns. Population density plays a part in deciding what the transportation market demands. Much of Knox County has a very low-density, approximately 114 residents per square mile, according to previously published reports. The highest population density is in Rockland and Camden and the seasonal population increases by a factor of three during summer months, LeFleur confirmed.
"We're pushing the limit on what a fixed route can handle," she said.
Rockport Town Planner Bill Najpauer reminded committee members not to forget longterm costs of creating a regional transportation option. He noted there are likely grants to begin operations but the towns still will be required to pay some money toward capital costs.
"In regard to matching money, this whole project is a feasibility study," Camden Development Director and committee member Brian Hodges said.
Citing reliability as an important feature of bus service, committee members also questioned the validity of the estimated one-hour trip between Camden and Thomaston, particularly during summer months when traffic on Route 1 is typically heavier.
"Especially in the summer, it's not going to happen," White said.
Thomaston representative John Eaton suggested creation of a shorter route if the cost seems prohibitive for the full four-town length.
"We're a long way from 'yes,' 'no,' 'maybe,'" White said.
Each of the options presented has buses traveling Route 1 between downtown Camden and downtown Thomaston. Service would be offered 260 days per year, Monday through Friday.
Estimated per passenger costs ranged from $6.75 to $22.50 — passenger costs are not the rate that would be charged to riders. According to Coastal Trans representative Lee Karker, per passenger costs are the costs per trip based on the type of vehicle and distance, which varies through the seven proposals.
The first option, called Approach 1, On Demand, would make use of two vehicles and one spare at a projected annual cost of $270,000. Riders could "dial-a-ride" on demand from within the covered area — Route 1 and a fixed distance away — and there would not be regular stops.
Approach 1A is a community shuttle model with a fixed route of stops. Buses would run in different towns on different days. Using one vehicle and one spare, the option was estimated to cost $162,000 per year.
The fixed route model presented as Approach 2 seemed to garner the most support following a straw vote of committee members and public at the meeting. Buses would operate on an hourly basis in all four towns for 12 hours each weekday, excluding some holidays. The 20.5 mile route between Camden Public Library and Oceanside West in Thomaston was estimated to cost $486,000 per year and use three vehicles with one spare.
Using the same route, Approach 2A was touted as a deviated fixed route, meaning in addition to fixed stops along the route, there also would be the option for veering off-route to pick up riders. At $648,000 per year to operate, it was the most expensive option, using four vehicles and one spare.
A limited stop option was estimated to cost $324,000 per year using two vehicles and one spare. Approach 3 was compared to the Silver Line train in Boston in its operation.
The point deviation option, or Approach 3A, would traverse 17.6 miles on an hourly basis, 12 hours per weekday. Estimated annual costs totaled $486,000 for three vehicles and one spare.
The last option presented, Approach 4: commuter express, included costs per year ranging from $70,000 to $157,500 for contracted bus service to farther points like Augusta and Portland.
There will be a public meeting Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. at Rockland City Hall. The options will be presented by representatives of Nelson\Nygaard, who also will answer questions.
The Midcoast area had daily bus service until the late 1950s and there has been several, short-lived seasonal options since, according to the committee website.
(207) 236-8511 ext. 302
Stephanie has served as editor of Camden Herald since its return in April 2012.
Previously, she was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has worked a number of years in the newspaper business from southern Maine to Waldo County.
Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.
Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and two chickens.