No question that public transportation is better for the environment than if all of us drive around in our own individual cars. But in cold and sprawling Maine, it can be a tough sell. True, come winter, drivers must clear their cars of snow and ice and navigate scary, greasy roads. Still, judging (entirely unscientifically) by the number of cars in the city versus the number of Portland Metro bus riders, Mainers find the car hassles less onerous than the bus ones, say, standing around in 8-degree weather waiting for a bus.
There’s another disincentive to winter bus ridership: the frozen and menacing walls of snow along the curb – created by plows – that can make boarding and disembarking a dangerous challenge.
Robert Wagner (no, not that Robert Wagner) got an idea to do something about that. Since 2009, he has been the volunteer coordinator for an organization he founded, Adopt a Stop, which looks for volunteers to keep Portland and South Portland’s roughly 600 bus stops shoveled. (The city Public Works Department and bus employees, combined, clear fewer than 100 stops, about all they can afford to do.) Wagner, a retired engineering physicist who lives in Portland, does not ride the bus much himself, though he says his wife used to. He’s simply interested in transit issues and noticed riders confronted with high, slick snow embankments. “I just felt that this is something that needed to be done,” he said.
Adopt-a-stop programs exist in other cities, he said, but as far as he knows they are mostly in the South and mostly dedicated to keeping bus stops graffiti free and spic and span.
In the six years the program has existed here, it’s had just 14 volunteers, give or take a few, who – as the name says – adopt a bus stop (or two), which they clear after snowstorms. Fourteen people, obviously, is nowhere near enough to handle the hundreds of stops, so Adopt a Stop is looking for more volunteers.
“It takes a very special kind of person to do this,” Wagner said. “You need to be fairly strong – that means young in many cases. But we want them to be over 18. And they have to be available at the right time.”
Just who are the few and the strong? “I guess the answer is they are civic-minded, concerned citizens,” Wagner said.
Volunteers get a shovel and a safety vest from the city, and in South Portland a free 10-ride bus pass after each snowstorm.
Transportation experts say that ridership goes up when buses and trains are convenient and safe. Adopt a Stop volunteers are helping Portland and South Portland get there, which is not only civic-minded, it’s planet-minded.
For more information on Adopt a Stop or to volunteer, go to adopt-a-stop.org.