Starter route recommended for Midcoast transit

By Stephanie Grinnell | Apr 23, 2014
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell Midcoast Transit Committee member Don White speaks before the final recommendation for regional bus service is made by Nelson/Nygaard.

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 sgrinnell@villagesoup.com.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Susan Sinclair | Apr 25, 2014 06:26

There is a very large percentage of elderly, poor and disabled people in the Midcoast, and buses are a good alternative for many folks. It's not the tourist areas that are going to need access, it's the hospitals, doctors, and major shopping areas that most people need to get to. Route 1 is Route 1, it's really not complicated to get around for a tourist....at all! I do think it's a shame that it ends at Wal-Mart, but maybe with enough demand the route can be expanded. It's one of those "wait and see" opportunities.



Posted by: Kathleen D Daley | Apr 24, 2014 16:37

I disagree with Mr Gamage. There is a great need for public transportation, for the elderly, the poor. I would love to give up my car. Its more than I can afford, but I've done the math. Taxi service costs much more than owning a vehicle. I'm happy for Mr Gamage that he can afford taxis, but he should be more compassionate and concerned for those who can't. He's out of touch with the realities of life in Maine.



Posted by: Jim Gamage | Apr 24, 2014 15:21

This is not self sustainable.  There isn't any need and it bothers me that we are creating a need for something using taxpayer funds.

I am happy to discuss alternatives that would be a more viable option.  Starting with a seasonal shuttle service from Rockland to Camden, modeled after the Island Explorer in Bar Harbor.  Ridership would be your tourism base and boaters.  Make stops at the hotels, campground, marinas and parking areas.  The idea would be to have the tourist, and locals if they wanted, be able to visit both Rockland and Camden at ease without the hassles of parking and directions.  Sell advertising (inside and outside), charge the businesses a small fee for stopping at their establishments and maybe a small donation suggested for the riders.  Use the old RES site as an offsite parking area with vendors and have the shuttles swing into the parking lot including making a stop in downtown Rockport.  Just think, the guests at the lodging accommodations would be able to go out in the evening, enjoy a dinner with a glass of wine and have no worries.  Talk about rolling out the red carpet for the Midcoast and creating a welcoming atmosphere. 

The option being proposed will not work.  Let the taxis handle the needs.  People in the area will not want to wait for a bus when they can call a cab and have it be cheaper and quicker. 



Posted by: Kathleen D Daley | Apr 24, 2014 08:59

I see the residents of Thomaston have been left out in the cold. The last stop is Walmart, so that means we would have to take ika taxi from Thomaston proper to Walmart to catch the bus. The average taxi fare from downtown Thomaston to Walmart is $10 one way for a total cost of $20 round trip, and on top of that we pay bus fare. I don't think so. Its easy to see that Midcoast Transit is really Rockland Transit only. Pity, there are many senior citizens in Thomaston who need, not just want but need, public transportation but cannot afford taxi fees.



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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central 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 chickens.

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