GORHAM – Opening the University of Southern Maine’s shuttle bus to the public or connecting to a Metro bus route in Westbrook are two ways that Gorham could start offering public transportation, according to a study by the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

Steve Linnell, senior transportation planner for the council, presented a report to the Town Council on Tuesday about options for bringing bus service to Gorham. But there’s no indication it will happen anytime soon.

Michael Foley, president of the Greater Portland Transit District, said it is too late for the 2012-13 budget, which the council approved Tuesday night. He asked councilors to keep public transportation in mind in the coming years.

It has been nearly a year since the council held a workshop on bus service and subsequently requested the study, which was completed in December, said Town Manager David Cole.

“I’m not sure what the next step is at this time. It depends on whether the Town Council wants to spend more time on this topic or not,” Cole wrote in an email Wednesday.

Some councilors indicated Tuesday that they wanted more information before moving forward with any of the scenarios.

One possibility presented by Linnell would be to use the shuttle operated by USM, which makes 39 one-way trips from the university’s Gorham and Portland campuses every weekday and six round trips on Saturdays.

Routes could be redirected during commuting hours to stop in downtown Gorham, said Linnell.

But simply opening the service to the public could be difficult, he said, because the buses are already busiest during commuter times.

Also, the buses don’t run on Sundays, holidays or when school is out of session.

Another option, Linnell said, would be to join the Greater Portland Transit District’s Metro bus service, which now has several stops in Portland and loops to the Maine Mall, Falmouth and Westbrook.

Adding a bus line that connects downtown Gorham to the Westbrook loop, with two trips in the morning and two trips in the evening, would cost about $55,000, he said.

Bus fares and grant money from a federal program could cut the cost to the town by more than half, Linnell said.

But the town would have to provide transit services for elderly and disabled people who live within three-quarters of a mile of the route, which Linnell estimated would cost $12,000.

The third option Linnell presented was an express commuter service that nearly mirrors the USM shuttle schedule but is offered year-round and has stops in downtown Gorham, in downtown Westbrook and at the Maine Mall.

Linnell estimated the cost of the service, which would have to go out for bids, at $2.3 million, to be shared by the town and the university.

USM recently signed a five-year contract for bus service with Custom Coach and Limousine of Portland, said Craig Hutchinson, chief student affairs officer.

Hutchinson anticipates that the shuttle between campuses will cost $400,000 to $450,000 a year.

USM spokesman Bob Caswell wrote in an email Wednesday that the priority of the shuttle service is to transport students between campuses in time for their classes.

But, he said, “We’re always open to collaborating with the town.” 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com