Freeport town officials and business leaders are investigating ways to increase public transportation around town before the Amtrak Downeaster brings train service next fall.

The Town Council will consider a proposal tonight that could lead the year-old Brunswick Explorer to extend its bus service to Freeport.

The town would pay $5,000 to join an expansion feasibility study being done by Bath and Topsham. The money would come from a traffic and parking reserve fund that contains $300,000.

“We’re looking at regional transportation options to move all kinds of people,” said Sande Updegraph, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corp. “Not just tourists, not just shoppers, but also workers who live in the area.”

The Brunswick Explorer study would assess ridership need, cost and potential funding sources if the bus service were extended to Freeport, said Town Planner Donna Larson. It also would identify likely routes and schedules. The council will meet at 7 p.m.

The Downeaster is set to extend passenger rail service from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick in November 2012. The Maine Department of Transportation is building a covered platform for arrivals and departures along the tracks on Depot Street. The train stop is expected to be completed this month.

A conservative estimate suggests that the train will bring more than 100 people to Freeport each day, Updegraph said. The town has a taxi service, but many visitors will need a bus or a shuttle to get around, especially if they’re staying in a nearby hotel or bed-and-breakfast.

“A lot of people can walk, but it’s difficult to go more than a few blocks with luggage, so we need some form of regular public transportation for them,” Updegraph said.

In addition, about 20 percent of the parking spaces in the village are used by employees of local businesses, said Larson. If more workers could use public transportation, they would free up much-needed parking spaces, especially during the busy summer season, and help the town avoid having to create additional parking.

The Brunswick Explorer study, being done by the MidCoast Economic Development District in Bath, is expected to be complete by spring.

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