Although no one came to two informational meetings held at the Windham Public Library last week, Windham resident Elaine Pollock’s dream of setting up a thriving commuter network for Windham is still going strong. She is hoping there are people out there as sick of rising gas prices as she is and willing to commute with others as a way of saving money.

Pollock, a motivated and sincere 52-year-old resident of Highland Cliff Road, held exploratory public meetings at the library last Thursday and Monday as a way of connecting those interested in commuting to work in Portland.

Her goals are three-fold. First, she wants to connect Windham commuters whose schedules allow them to commute with another person or in a group. Secondly, if she can’t find compatible commuters, she wants to make people aware of existing state programs that aid commuters. Lastly, Pollock would like to lobby the state to extend the Mountain Division Rail Trail for bicycle commuters from Gambo Bridge in South Windham to downtown Portland.

“Windham Commuter Network,” as she is calling the group, seeks to organize a carpooling network for Windham residents to use. Pollock got the idea after watching footage of Hurricane Katrina and then feeling the pinch at the gas pump in the succeeding days and weeks. This organizational effort, she says, is her way of fighting rising gas prices and at the same time being a responsible citizen by conserving fuel.

“My husband goes to the center of Portland every day. There’s got to be hundreds of people going down River Road or Route 302 at essentially the same time into the center of Portland as well. But we don’t know each other,” Pollock said. “That is the key if the Windham Commuter Network if it is going to fly. People are going the same way at the same time. They could save real money by going together.”

After filling up at $3-plus per gallon, Pollock heard a segment on Maine Public Radio about GoMaine.org and a commuting network the state promotes called Carpool and Vanpool. The state-sponsored commuting strategies are set up in densely populated Maine locations for state workers to commute in vans to their state jobs in Augusta. The state claims Vanpools can save commuters up to $2,500 a year and even provide emergency rides home should someone have to stay at work after hours.

Pollock would like to see a similar private sector program started for greater Portland residents who commute into Portland daily. She believes large employers like Unum Provident, UPS, Fairchild and National Semiconductor could be potential companies interested in offering these Vanpools to their employees. And she sees the current gas spike as a motivator for those commuters who want to conserve fuel and save money.

Pollock says decreasing gasoline prices in the past few weeks might take away from some of the impetus to conserve fuel Mainers felt immediately after Katrina. She says that is partly the reason no one attended the recent meetings.

“The price goes up, the need is there. The price goes down, people see relief and they forget about it,” Pollock said.

But she is hopeful that people would still want to commute together since prices will remain high for the perceived future, especially given the compounding damage caused this week by Hurricane Rita.

She also is aware that safety could be a reason why people aren’t willing to commute together. But she said GoMaine.org sets up commuters anonymously and advises they set boundaries. The Windham network would do the same, she said.

“They can first meet in a public place to see if they’re compatible. To see if they’re driving habits and personalities go together. But the most important is times and destinations. Those two have to click.”

She also sees the organization becoming a lobbying force for expanding commuting options for Windham residents. She eyes the Mountain Division Rail Trail as a perfect bicycle commuting path for Windham area residents.

“There are six good months in Maine where you really could ride your bike to work, and it’s only nine miles into Portland along the rail line,” she said. “You know, Scarborough is doing quite a lot with the Eastern Trail; I get to the end of it and I want more. Why couldn’t we do that with the railroad tracks down to Portland?”

To join the Windham Commuter Network or to find out more, call Pollock at 892-4087 or e-mail [email protected]


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