FALMOUTH — Town officials decided to continue to provide Metro bus service for another year after a spirited public hearing Monday night.

The Town Council voted 5-2 against a proposal to withdraw from the Greater Portland Transit District, which also provides bus service in Portland and Westbrook.

The vote was a relief to Rebecca Blake, one of 22 people who urged councilors to keep the service, which will cost Falmouth taxpayers $117,000 in 2012.

Blake, 60, said she rides the Falmouth Flyer two or three days a week to shop, visit doctors or take college courses in Portland. She got emotional as she talked about the threat of losing the service.

“We have to fight every year to keep the bus – it’s nerve-wracking,” Blake told the council during the two-hour hearing and deliberation.

Parents don’t have to fight each year to keep public schools open, Blake said, and “it would be nice if we could take for granted that public transportation will be there.”

Dan Maloney was one of four people who spoke against the bus service. He said his property taxes went up $500 this year and he believes the town should focus spending on services such as schools, public safety, roads and utilities.

“I oppose the Metro,” Maloney said. “I consider this to be a luxury.”

Ridership on the Falmouth Flyer has increased steadily since it started operating, from fewer than 55,000 passengers in the first 10 months of 2005 to 65,145 passengers in the same period this year, according to the transit district.

That means the bus makes 13 round trips, six days a week, from downtown Portland through Falmouth, carrying an average of 22 riders per round trip since 2008, said Councilor Tony Payne.

Payne called Monday’s hearing to generate a public dialogue on the value of the bus service in advance of tough budget times, including a $500,000 reduction in education funding.

Payne and Councilor Fred Chase questioned ridership data provided by the transit district, saying that the bus sometimes runs nearly empty. They voted to end the service in 2013.

Councilor Bonny Rodden defended the bus and questioned Payne’s need to measure the success of the service. She is vice president of the transit district’s board of directors.

“What would satisfy you? I don’t think you know,” Rodden said. She noted that some Falmouth residents rarely or never use the transfer station or the town landing, and a majority of residents don’t have children in the schools.

Rodden and councilors Faith Varney, Teresa Pierce, Chris Orestis and Will Armitage voted to keep the Metro, saying it’s a necessary public service that benefits residents and businesses.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]