A commuter bus service that would have connected Cumberland, Freeport and Yarmouth to Portland and Falmouth hit a roadblock last week when the Cumberland Town Council voted against the pilot program, but an area transit official says the project will continue without Cumberland’s participation.
“Removing Cumberland does require Metro to rescope the project in a way that preserves a useful service for residents in the remaining communities while also keeping the towns’ financial commitments at an acceptable level,” Greg Jordan, general manager of the Greater Portland Transit District, said in an email.
In a Press Herald article in June, Jordan had said that if one town declined to endorse the plan, the project would likely be scrapped.
But Jordan said that of the three towns, Cumberland’s decision not to participate affects the project the least because it does not have a condensed downtown area.
The bus route, Jordan said, is a lot more convenient for Freeport and Yarmouth, and plans to launch the pilot program by mid-2015 are still underway.
In July, the Yarmouth Town Council unanimously approved plans for the bus route at an annual cost of about $30,000, but Freeport’s council postponed making a decision until Sept. 16. Portland and Falmouth are already Metro partners.
The proposed bus service is similar to the Zoom-Shuttle Bus that currently runs between Biddeford-Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough and Portland, according to the June 2014 report that outlines the inter-city express bus.
The buses would run on Route 1 and Interstate 295, with some stops in Freeport, Yarmouth and Falmouth. The original plans had included Cumberland.
Service would be on weekdays only, with buses coming every 30 minutes between 6 and 9 a.m. and 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. According to the original report, Metro planned to buy four new buses at about $200,000 each.
A one-way fare would cost $4 from Freeport to Portland, $3 from Yarmouth to Portland and $2 from Falmouth to Portland. There would also be options for riders to purchase monthly passes.
“Bypassing Cumberland does create opportunities to improve the speed and convenience of the service by operating on I-295 between Yarmouth and Portland,” Jordan said.
The Cumberland Town Council last week voted 4-3 against a proposal to participate in the three-year pilot program.
Chairman Thomas Gruber said he voted for the service because a survey completed in June showed that Cumberland residents were looking for more public transportation options.
“The contract proposal was non-binding, non-risk and would have helped explore transportation needs,” Gruber said.
Gruber said the four dissenting councilors were unhappy with the route, and added that the plan would have been more reasonable if the route was expanded to include more rural areas.
Jim MacLeod, chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council, said the council has not met since Cumberland rejected the proposal, but it intends to go ahead with the plan once it receives the revised proposal from Metro.
“I’m surprised, but also understand their hesitancy,” MacLeod said. “(Cumberland) would not have reaped the benefits that Yarmouth and Freeport will.”
MacLeod said the council supports the proposal because while the program is designed for commuters, it has the potential to serve a much larger section of the population.
“We support the pilot program and we’ll wait and see what happens in Freeport,” MacLeod said.
Andy Wellen, a Freeport town councilor, said he is not sure if there is enough of a need for the Metro program and is hesitant about the current proposal. He said that he will be more sure once Greater Portland Transit releases new projections.
The report estimated that there would be about 120 boardings per day and about 30,000 per year, but without the inclusion of Cumberland, the estimates now need to be reworked.
With a monthly pass, according to the report, a Freeport resident would pay about $960 a year to travel by bus to Portland. By comparison, a car commuter would spend $5,228 per year before the costs of parking in Portland, according to the report.
The project, if approved by Freeport, would rely heavily on federal funding, with some expenses covered by fares and the towns picking up some of the costs during the pilot project phase. By the fourth year, if the service became permanent, the towns would pay a combined $233,000 to keep the service, according to the report.
Jordan said he remains optimistic that the program will be approved in Freeport and given the green light to run by next summer.
“Metro staff will be working closely with the town managers in Freeport and Yarmouth to develop effective adjustments with an adjusted proposal submitted to the towns as soon as possible,” Jordan said.
Chelsea Diana can be contacted at 791-6337 or at: