FALMOUTH — The town and the METRO bus system will roll out the Falmouth Flyer’s expanded route and new schedule on May 11.

The service will increase during morning and evening commuter hours to include Johnson Road, Route 88 and Depot Road.

The Legislature recently approved Falmouth’s membership in the Greater Portland Transit District, the first community to join in more than 20 years, according to Councilor Bonny Rodden, who has been a leader of the drive to provide and expand bus service in town.

“It’s significant as far as mass transit is concerned; it’s one step toward more regionalized mass transit, something many of us are eager to have,” Rodden said Tuesday.

At Monday’s Town Council meeting, Rodden and Town Manager Nathan Poore were appointed as Falmouth’s two METRO board members, with Assistant Town Manager Amy Lamontagne as an alternate.

To launch and promote the new service, on Thursday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., METRO and the town will host a community celebration at O’Naturals on Route 1. Town and METRO officials will ride to the restaurant on the bus, signifying their joint support of the project.

As part of the publicity blitz, residents along the existing and new route will receive brochures in the mail. Falmouth by the Sea, Foreside Harbor and Ocean View will offer a ticket for 10 free Flyer rides to anyone who calls and requests one from Town Hall. METRO will provide month-long passes for all Falmouth residents, and six free months for those who live along the new route.

The Falmouth Shopping Center has also agreed to allow a portion of its parking lot near the old Shaw’s Supermarket to be used as a park-and-ride lot from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

“It’s to get people comfortable with riding the bus,” Rodden said. “Once they get on they will realize how easy it is to relax and ride into Portland.”

Joel Rodgers, administrator of Falmouth by the Sea and Foreside Harbor, said he welcomes the expanded service both for the residents and his employees. Many of those employed in entry-level positions at his facilities come from long distances and the bus will help them save money on gas and car maintenance, he said. Rodgers has also agreed to adjust their work schedules around the bus schedule.

“Gas went from $4 to $2 per gallon, but the economy and employment has gone in the tank and my support for (the bus service) has grown even more,” Rodgers said. “Let’s promote it now.”

Applegate resident Tess Parrish said she uses the bus because she doesn’t like to drive. Now that the bus will stop near her house, she can take it to go grocery shopping and maybe take in a movie and return without taking her car out.

“I’m really very excited,” she said. “The only problem is most people I know use cars and are so used to using their cars they can’t think bus. I like the bus because I don’t have to take the car in town. I prefer not to have to park it and find it.”

Parrish said it’s even easy to make the bus connections that will take her to the Maine Mall. She’s determined to sell her neighbors on the bus, too, she said.

Falmouth began offering METRO bus service in 2004. Since then, ridership has increased every year and is now 72,000 trips per year, Rodden said. The marketing program, which according to Rodden has been endorsed by the Falmouth/Cumberland Community Chamber, will strive for an increase in ridership over the coming months, although there are is no specific goal at this point; Rodden said she plans to research standards for the industry, rather than throwing out arbitrary figures.

“We hope ridership will increase for Falmouth residents, but historically, during an economic downturn, fewer people ride the bus because they’re not shopping, so we have to evaluate what we get (for numbers) very carefully,” she said.

The new Falmouth Flyer schedule and route map is available on METRO’s Web site, gpmetrobus.com.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected].

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