The Metro regional bus service is expanding its Breez commuter shuttle to Brunswick.
Funding for a two-year pilot project was approved by the Brunswick Town Council by a 6 to 3 vote this week. The service, which already links downtown Portland to Falmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport, will add Brunswick stops this summer.
A Brunswick expansion had been considered by the council but never pursued because of cost concerns, said Councilor Sarah Brayman, an expansion supporter. But a reduced estimate from Metro and an annual pledge of $10,000 from Bowdoin College lowered the bus service’s cost by 30 percent from its initial estimate. It will cost the town about $76,000 over the next two years for the service, Brayman said.
“I think (the changes) made the project more palatable to the council,” she said, noting the proposal got strong support from Brunswick’s business community, which lobbied for the service to give workers access to area employers. “I think it is really exciting, I am just thrilled by it.”
At a January business roundtable, a lack of public transportation was identified as a key problem for employers in Brunswick who are struggling to fill jobs. The town has an unemployment rate of between 2.6 percent and 2.75 percent, and employers, including Bowdoin, are recruiting from as far away as Portland. That presents a problem for potential employees who do not have reliable transportation. At the workforce summit, employers said transportation is the No. 1 reason people call out from work.
Expanding the labor pool beyond Brunswick was a key reason for why Bowdoin agreed to provide $10,000 a year for the pilot project, said Doug Cook, a college spokesman.
The roundtable discussion, hosted by the town and Bowdoin, made it clear that “Brunswick’s low unemployment rate combined with transportation limitations are making it increasingly difficult to fill jobs with qualified workers,” Cook said.
Bowdoin also hopes the Breez service will give faculty and staff a reliable way to travel to Portland and give Brunswick residents who commute into the city another transportation option, Cook said. The Amtrak Downeaster now offers three daily trips to Portland during the work week, and other service on the weekends.
The three-year pilot Breez service, funded with federal grants and matching funds from Freeport and Yarmouth, was launched last year. It runs 10 round-trips five days a week from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. between Portland and Freeport, and a shorter, five round-trip schedule on Saturdays. One-way fares on the Breez are $3, and the shuttles are outfitted with USB ports, wireless internet, overhead storage and bike racks.
Metro Executive Director Greg Jordan said the target passenger count for the service after a full year is about 30,000 boardings annually. Since it launched in June, there have been an estimated 15,000 boardings and Jordan expects the service to hover in the mid-20,000 range in the first full 12 months of service.
“For a first year as a brand-new service, I think it is a really good start,” Jordan said.
Metro is arranging public meetings in Brunswick as it considers routes and stops, including connections with the Brunswick Explorer, the local bus service. The Breez expansion to Brunswick is expected to launch in late August, Jordan said.
Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: