The pilot bus service that runs regular weekday routes from Wal-Mart to Pen Bay Medical Center is strongly supported in concept by the community, but will need financial partners to keep it operating.

The Rockland DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle), which operates under the auspices  of Waldo Community Action Partners in Belfast, began operating its hourly schedule May 2.

Michael Hallundbaek, director of MidCoast Public Transportation for the Waldo County-based nonprofit service agency, did not provide any ridership information, but said Monday, Feb. 18, that a meeting will be scheduled at City Hall in March to update the public and gather further comments regarding the pilot program and Rockland routes.

At a Feb. 16 gathering by Heart & Soul, Rockland City Councilor Valli Geiger said she had heard the bus service was on its last legs and needed more community support.

At the meeting, the development of local public transportation received the highest percentage of residents (93 percent) who said this service would have a beneficial impact on Rockland.

More than 40 people attended the Feb. 16 meeting to rank 65 possible steps to improve the community. And while public transportation ranked high on its positive impact for Rockland, only 44 percent of those at the meeting said it was highly feasible to have such a service.

Hallundbaek said a general rule of thumb is that it often takes three years for a public bus route to build sustaining ridership.

He said fares from passengers typically make up a small portion of the revenue to run a public transportation service, which means it also needs municipal and often private-sector sponsorships.

"As with other, similar services of this nature, we will need more partners from the community if the community sees the service as a value added, as we cannot sustain it on our own indefinitely," he said.

"Public transportation is typically a municipal service for the benefit of the general public, but is, in rural communities across North America, often, as in this case, an effort by private nonprofit organizations working in partnership with the state department of transportation, municipalities, corporations and foundations to provide some level of very costly but essential public transportation," he said.

Last summer, the organization reported that there were 263 riders in May and that rose to 401 in July.

There is one northbound and one southbound bus running, Both carry 12 passengers. The fare is $2 per boarding, but there are also $5 day passes, a 12-punch card for $20, and a monthly pass for $50. Senior and youth discounts are available. Credit and debit cards are accepted, but exact change is required if paying cash.

The buses run hourly Monday through Friday beginning at 7 a.m., both from Pen Bay in Rockport and Walmart in Thomaston, and end at 4:30 p.m.

The stops on the southbound run include Pen Bay, Shaw's supermarket, Irving gas station/convenience store on Camden Street, Hannaford supermarket on Maverick Street, Custom House parking lot on School Street, Maine State Ferry Terminal, South Main Street Maritime Farms, Stella Maris, the Salvation Army on Route 1, and Walmart.

On the northbound run, the stops are the same, except the E.L. Spear on Route 1 and the Breakwater Marketplace on Camden Street will be added and the Irving station will be omitted.

The route is based on a public transit study conducted in 2014. A Midcoast Maine Transit Committee met for two years before concluding that while there was a need for public transportation in the region, there were significant obstacles, including an insufficient concentration of population and a lack of parties willing to contribute to the service.