FREEPORT

Greater Portland Transit District’s Metro bus service will be expanding to Freeport with strong support from the Freeport Town Council with amendments made to the initial pilot program proposal that addressed key concerns from council members and Freeport residents.

The bus service will launch as a three-year pilot project that will cost Freeport $27,000 for 2015-16 service, $30,170 for 2016-17, and $32,443 for 2017-18, according to the proposal provided by Metro.

According to a letter from Metro General Manager Greg Jordan to the Freeport Town Council, estimates for years following the pilot project phase have decreased from the total originally projected, roughly $80,000 per year, to $50,491 for year four and $52,180 for year five of the bus service.

In February, Metro’s board of directors approved extending an express, bi-directional bus service from Portland north of Falmouth to Cumberland, Yarmouth and Freeport.

In July, the Yarmouth Town Council unanimously approved the proposal. In August, the Cumberland Town Council narrowly rejected the proposal, while the Freeport Town Council tabled the decision to gather public input.

Two speakers opposed a possible Metro expansion at a Tuesday night public hearing at the Freeport Town Hall, while approximately 30 residents stood, wearing pins to show their support of the bus service coming to Freeport.

Jordan opened discussion with a presentation explaining modifications to the proposal previously presented to the Freeport Town Council, namely to expand the schedule to all-day service, rather than primarily offering a commuter service; the schedule has also been modified to integrate with Amtrak Downeaster service, rather than duplicate timetables; and a flat fare system has been proposed rather than a zone fare system.

Service will be offered from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, with optional Saturday service given additional funding. Whereas with the commuter service, a 30-minute frequency of buses was planned; with the all-day service, buses will be less frequent.

A zone fare system had been proposed originally which ranged from $2 to $4 for a single fare, depending on the distance of travel. This was replaced by a flat fare of $3.

Mike Doyle, of Falmouth, opened the public comment period, cautioning residents against allowing Metro to expand to Freeport.

“I rode the bus many, many times to Portland during rush hours basically by myself,” said Doyle, adding that the carbon footprint of an empty “20-ton bus” would be greater than that of a personal vehicle.

“If you have $80,000 a year to throw away on a bus service, you would be better served giving the money to your heating oil fund and your food pantry,” said Doyle.

“The bus is going to benefit Freeport,” said Sebastian Meade, a Freeport resident. “Businesses are going to benefit from it, from people that work in Freeport, from people that run businesses, this is something that Freeport needs to do.”

Roy Driver noted that the bus service would aid veterans who had difficulty accessing some services. Jim Hatch of the Freeport Housing Trust said bus service would also serve the elderly community who were no longer able to drive to medical appointments, as well as assist job seekers who did not have a vehicle.

“Please vote yes,” said Sunday Chapman, adding that she was at the hearing on behalf of her son, a junior at Freeport High School who is visually impaired. “At 16 years of age, most teens are getting their licence. My son and many others who share his disability will never be able to drive and will have to rely on public transportation to get anywhere.”

Jim Crane said he supported the Metro expansion because it could spare more of Freeport’s character and architecture being paved over to provide parking. Fred Robie of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine said that Metro service would make Freeport more cyclist and pedestrian friendly.

“When I look at this schedule, you just cut 20 percent of my business right out from under me,” said Pete Harrison, owner of Outward Express, a shuttle service. “Ninety thousand dollars? You guys found it hard to come by when you cut the budget, didn’t you? Now you want to give it to (Metro)?”

Several other residents spoke in favor of the council adopting Metro’s proposed pilot project before the roughly 40-minute public comment period was closed.

Council members Scott Gleeson, Rich DeGrandpre, Melanie Sachs, Sarah Tracy, vice chairwoman Kristina Egan and chairman James Hendricks spoke in favor of the project, noting in some cases that early concerns had been addressed by Metro in the amended proposal and that the pilot format reduces the risk of the commitment.

Councilor Andrew Wellen said he wanted the decision to be tabled until the council could further review the revised proposal.

“In Freeport, 780 people were polled and 37 percent support using tax dollars to subsidize public transportation,” said Wellen, “while 44 percent oppose such a plan. That 44 percent isn’t here tonight, so it’s tricky to decide if there is enough benefit for enough people to justify the cost.”

No other councilors requested additional time and the proposal was brought to a vote, with all voting in favor except Wellen, who abstained.

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THE BUS SERVICE will launch as a three-year pilot project that will cost Freeport $27,000 for 2015-16 service, $30,170 for 2016-17, and $32,443 for 2017-18. According to a letter from Metro General Manager Greg Jordan, estimates for years following the pilot project phase have decreased from the total originally projected, roughly $80,000 per year, to $50,491 for year four and $52,180 for year five of the bus service.

JORDAN OPENED Tuesday’s discussion with a presentation explaining modifications to the proposal previously presented to the Freeport Town Council, namely to expand the schedule to all-day service, rather than primarily offering a commuter service; the schedule has also been modified to integrate with Amtrak Downeaster service, rather than duplicate timetables; and a flat fare system has been proposed rather than a zone fare system.


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