Starter route recommended for Midcoast transit
Rockport — The engineering firm charged with studying options for bus service in the Midcoast on April 22 recommended a route focused on the greater Rockland area.
Of four options presented by Nelson/Nygaard, the recommended option also is anticipated to be the most thrifty for the four towns involved. The final report was presented by Boris Palchik of Nelson Nygaard to the committee that formed more than two years ago to consider transit options in Camden, Rockland, Rockport and Thomaston in the Richardson Room at Rockport Town Office.
The recommended route runs mostly on Route 1 between Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and Wal-Mart in Thomaston, with a few jogs to provide service to heavily-populated developments and stops near grocery stores.
"This doesn't mean that because we're getting the final report that buses will be running next week," committee member Camden Selectman Don White cautioned.
Maine Department of Transportation Multi-Modal Planning and Operations Manager Sue Moreau concurred and noted it will likely take between 12 and 18 months to complete planning.
"We don't want to start something that will fail right off the block," she said. " ... Your neighbors are looking at you too. It's been a priority for Maine DOT to make this work."
As part of the study, survey results from 700 responses showed 90 percent agreed the time was right to consider a mass transit system in the Midcoast, Palchik said. Engineers then studied the market and narrowed down potential riders to three groups: urban residents living car-free, corridor commuters and seasonal visitors.
"A lot of destinations are regional. There's one Y, Wal-Mart, hospital," Palchik said.
In addition, a ridership survey was conducted for 10 days each in June and October. Schooner Bay Taxi and Coastal Transportation ridership was monitored between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. and the average number of trips per day was determined to be 140.
"That's what we assume to be the baseline potential," Palchik said.
Using the results of the surveys, four possible options were formed ranging from comprehensive hourly service to a seasonal service. Estimates place a one-way trip between Camden and Thomaston to last one hour and 20 minutes; requiring between three and four buses to provide reliable hourly service on the designated route. The estimated cost for the comprehensive service — excluding initial capital costs such as purchasing buses — was $605,000. Estimated fares for riders were not provided, as Palchick described setting the fee as a political decision.
A limited stop option between Camden and Thomaston was estimated to cost $425,000 per year to operate. Palchik noted Coastal Transportation would likely retain more riders in that scenario, as stops would be further apart.
"Corridor commuters benefit most from this [option]," he said.
The third option presented was the Rockland-focused service, expected to cost $360,000 per year.
"It could create a strong foundation for a starter service," Palchik said of the shortened route. " ... the benefit is to urban residents, more specifically Rockland residents."
He explained Rockland has the highest population density and likely users of the service, with Camden being second in density.
Lastly, a seasonal service was considered at an estimated cost of $195,000 per year. Buses would only run during summer months and would exclude Samoset Resort. Palchik said the seasonal service would operate seven days per week and require three vehicles.
"There would probably be a noticeable impact on parking in Camden and Rockland," he said.
Ultimately, though, the Rockland-focused service was recommended, with Palchik offered options like a privately-run shuttle from Samoset to a central stop on the route. He shied away from options including a transfer option — when people would be required to get off one bus and onto another.
"I'm hesitant to provide an option with a transfer," Palchik said, adding most people will simply not use the service if they have to change buses. He also did not recommend starting a service with an evening route, though it has been successful in other areas. "Taxis are great for those spur of the moment trips."
White pointed to the "tremendous amounts of data" collected and suggested additional exploration of options, with the possibility of a hybrid service.The full report is 300 pages.
"This will take some digesting before we get to the implementation phase," he said.
Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.