'Not just those who need it'

Bus service seeks to expand ridership

By Stephen Betts | Aug 20, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts

Rockland — The operator of the bus service that runs from Pen Bay Medical Center to Walmart, and makes many stops in between, is seeking to expand its ridership.

"We want to reach out to a different population, not just those who need it, but people who can look at it as an alternative form of transportation," said Steffanie Pyle, who is heading community relations for Mid-Coast Public Transportation, which operates Rockland DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle).

The service, under the umbrella of Waldo Community Action Program, began operating its hourly schedule May 2.

Public transportation is one of the top needs in the area and is critical for people who do not have cars, Pyle said.

She said, however, that if a public transportation system focuses only on that narrow group, it will guarantee low ridership.

Pyle said the service can be used, for instance, by people who want to help the environment by having fewer vehicles on the roads. The 12-passenger DASH bus could take 12 vehicles off the road, she said. More people using the bus would lead to less congestion on the roads, she said. In addition, Pyle said, buses have fewer crashes than individual motor vehicles.

A community can also strengthen itself, she said, by encouraging neighbors to ride the bus and people can meet face to face and carry on conversations.

She acknowledged that the challenge will be to convince people who own motor vehicles to ride the bus. "This is the chicken and the egg situation. How do you get them into the service?" Pyle said.

She said Maine is an elderly state and older people who may no longer drive can use the bus. In addition, many young people are choosing not to have vehicles and DASH can be their transportation.

The transportation organization is making a renewed effort to educate the public about the benefits of DASH. There will be a week of events during the first full week of September, including a ceremonial ribbon-cutting at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, at the Custom House parking lot.

Ridership increased from 263 riders in May to 401 in July.

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

The buses will 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 will be 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.

Pyle said the route and stops can be re-evaulated and public feedback is important.

To help publicize the service and attract new riders, DASH is hosting a four-day event from Sept. 4 through 7. Tuesday, Sept. 4, a ribbon-cutting will be held at 12:30 p.m. at the School Street/Custom Place bus stop. Two people can ride the bus together for the price of one ticket. Wednesday, Sept. 5, bus riders will receive a free water bottle and information on health and wellness. Thursday, Sept. 6, riders will receive a free reusable grocery bag with coupons and goodies. And Friday, Sept. 7, riders who contribute an item for the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Pantry will receive a free one-way ticket for later use.

Waldo County Community Action Partners, based in Belfast, is operating the service. The transportation group has established an office at the Breakwater Marketplace.

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.

Comments (10)
Posted by: Caroline Woodman | Aug 21, 2018 12:50

I think the Thomaston to Camden route is a great idea! They could operate an express bus mornings and evenings to help working people.

Posted by: Kerry Watts Weber | Aug 21, 2018 09:47

Easier access to parking for seniors than Main St. in Thomaston might be at the Library/Old Grammar School....

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Aug 20, 2018 22:24

I would like to know just how many of the people makeing comments about the specific kinds of bus service they would like to see actually ever ran a business with employees and have at least a basic understanding of how a business operates ? Add up the cost of each bus, the amount of gasoline needed to operate an elaborate schedule as you mentioned (at $3 per gallon) and employee hours plus benefits.  If such a business woman devised a plan that covered these costs and made a profit, I would listen.  on the other hand, if you're just spouting pie in the sky wonderful ideas,  sorry I'm not with ya. These businesses fail not because they don't have this elaborate schedule ( a market already covered by taxi companies), but because the costs of operation exceed the revenues generated.  A very basic business principal generally misunderstood by most politicians.

Posted by: Amy Files | Aug 20, 2018 12:19

I would disagree Steve -- I think one of the reason this service fails is that they fail to cater it to the needs of the population -- a flexible, on-call service is great for the elderly -- but the younger population needs a bus with fewer stops (so the ride isn't too long) and reliable/frequent schedule. A 1/2 bus between Thomaston Main St and Camden would likely have ridership. And I agree with the other women's comments -- you need to make sure people have access when they need it -- between 7:30 and 9:30 am, 11am-2pm (lunchtime breaks), and again in the evening commute. If you want ridership from younger, working folks -- that's what needs to happen. My understanding is that no one has really tried to do this -- they always want to start small/flexible and so never reach that ridership -- and as mentioned above, I've seen little to no publication of the stops/times getting to the people who they'd want to ride the service.

Posted by: Amy Files | Aug 20, 2018 12:15

I have emailed the operators when this service started up with concerns about how the service, right now, seems only geared towards seniors/retirees and those who have accessibility issues -- and they did not respond. While this population is a great place to start -- if you only gear ridership towards them, you'll never get younger, working folks riding it. if you want younger people who are working to ride the service, it needs to run extend further (between Main St. Thomason and Camden) -- run fewer stops so the length of the ride is reliable -- and more frequently. People who are able do not need a ride in downtown Rockland -- we're already walking or biking within those few blocks. And people who are working can't afford the extra time waiting another hour after their appt. ends if they wanted to take it to Penbay medical... not to mention, many only have a couple Dr's appts a year so again, that stop is really catering to an older population. In addition, they could use way more publicity -- rack cards at the coffee shops, City Hall, that publicize the stops and service clearly... posts on social media, midcoast message board, etc -- besides seeing the busses around town and the occasionally news article -- I haven't really seen this service marketed to the larger population here.

Posted by: Tiffany Dennison | Aug 20, 2018 10:20

I think it’s a wonderful idea and hope it can stay but there are a few issues. They take an hour off midday when people would use it for lunch, don’t get me wrong, the drivers deserve a break but they take lunch when everyone else does. I think the elderly would be more likely to use the bus if the stops were easier to get to, most can’t walk 3/4-1/2 mile to get to a bus stop. They say with two days advance notice they can deviate from the route to pick up and drop someone off but only if someone else hasn’t claimed that day. Some of the stops are not easily found. The last time I went to the ferry terminal I couldn’t see a sign but I know they stop there. I am certainly not trying to be negative but it seems that some changes need to be made for this bus to stick around. Maybe a meeting so the public could give their input on improvements or at least explanations as to why things can’t be changed.

Posted by: Ananur Forma | Aug 20, 2018 08:55

great. this is needed.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Aug 20, 2018 08:54

Let's read between the lines folks.  They are in effect saying without more customers they will not be able to keep operating.  Many have tried providing local bus service over the years, even some big players.  All have failed, primarily because this area is just not big enough for public transportation.  Local taxis  provide a more convenient service for just a little more money.  This group needs to obtain a shuttle contract with the local senior homes, the hospital, the prison or other companies willing to pay for guaranteed service.  We would love to see a service like this survive, however they may also succumb to the reality of life in rural Maine.

Posted by: Lorinda Ann Bradley-Lewis | Aug 20, 2018 08:18

I wish it ran on weekends too since that is when I come up to visit friends on Vinalhaven. I park at JC Penney's oldl parking lot and walk to save money and avoid the vandalism that takes place in the ferry terminal parking lot, but it would be great to have in case of bad weather.

Posted by: Nina Reed | Aug 20, 2018 07:20

it would be nice to ride the bus but i dont live on the route. if i had to drive to get to the route i may as well drive to my destination. patricia williams

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