FALMOUTH – The Falmouth Flyer is a highly valuable and well-used service in town that should be preserved, said the overwhelming majority of residents and others who spoke at a public hearing Monday evening.

The Town Council held the hearing, as required by state law, because a citizens petition has put the question of ending taxpayer-supported Metro bus service in Falmouth on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The town’s voters will be asked to withdraw from the Greater Portland Transit District at the end of 2013, although ridership has increased steadily since the bus service started in late 2004.

“I rely on the bus,” said Merrill Barter of Meadow Creek Lane, one of 14 people who spoke in favor of continuing the service.

Barter said he’s legally blind, so he takes the bus daily to his job in Portland and counts on it to run errands and get to appointments throughout the region.

Michael Doyle of Shady Lane defended the bus question, which he got on the ballot by collecting signatures from 10 percent of Falmouth’s 8,472 registered voters.

Doyle was one of two residents who spoke against the bus.

He said the council has voted on the Falmouth Flyer several times, but residents have never been asked to decide whether the service is valid or necessary. Doyle questioned the actual demand for the government-subsidized service, saying the bus is often empty when he rides it.

“It’s time that the voters are heard from,” Doyle said.

In November 2011, the council voted 5-2 against a similar proposal to withdraw from the transit district, which also serves Portland and Westbrook and connects to South Portland.

The vote followed an emotional public hearing at which 22 people urged town leaders to continue funding the Falmouth Flyer and four people spoke against the service.

The council took no action Monday, but five of the six members who were present said they strongly support the service.

The Metro service cost Falmouth taxpayers about $105,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30 and will cost about $115,000 in fiscal 2012-2013, said Town Manager Nathan Poore.

Ridership on the Falmouth Flyer has increased steadily since it started operating, from 54,484 trips in 2005 to 78,912 trips in 2011, according to the transit district.

Ridership was up 5 percent in the first eight months of 2012, from 50,396 trips in January through August 2011 to 52,979 trips during the same period this year.

A one-way trip costs $1.50 for adults, $1 for students and 75 cents for senior citizens and disabled people, according to Metro’s website.

Mike Skillin, an owner of Skillins Greenhouses on Foreside Road and a member of the Falmouth Economic Improvement Committee, said several of his employees ride the bus to work daily.

“They need the bus for their jobs,” Skillin said. “It helps Falmouth businesses. It helps Falmouth consumers. It’s a piece of economic development that will continue to grow. We need to be patient.”

Lisa Agnew, a member of Friends of the Falmouth Flyer, said a Metro study done over 10 days in June counted 17 to 38 employees of Falmouth businesses using the bus to get to work. Those numbers excluded Walmart, Shaw’s and McDonald’s employees, who were counted separately.

Lynne Nichols, a nurse practitioner who lives in Portland and works in Falmouth, said she sold her car recently so she could “go green” and ride the bus.

“It would be such a crime not to preserve this service,” Nichols said.

Ed Suslovic, a Portland city councilor and a Metro board member, urged Falmouth voters to view the Falmouth Flyer as part of a regional transportation system that serves a regional economy and benefits a regional environment.

“The bus runs both ways,” Suslovic said. “We can get a lot more done together.”

John Jones, a Republican who’s running for the House District 112 seat in the Legislature, said he supports public transportation but believes it should be sustained by fares.

Dolores Vail was one of several senior citizens who spoke in favor of the bus. She has lived in Falmouth since 1957 and raised a family in town.

Vail doesn’t need the bus now, she said, but she hopes it will be there when she does. She sees it as one town service that benefits her, given all the taxes she pays to support the local schools.

“This is a matter of fairness and balance,” Vail said.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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