BRIDGTON — Use public transportation! This directive is always on a Top 10 list of ways to reduce our carbon footprint or aid in healing the planet of its man-made environmental troubles. The question is: How many of us in Maine have a public transportation option?

Surely we can all agree that transportation is a keystone component of a few social indicators. Maine, despite its sparse population and huge area, can and should do better to provide its residents with ways of moving from place to place without hopping into personally owned vehicles. Doing so will enhance the economy and ecology of our state as well as contribute to citizens’ health and safety.

As ubiquitous as it is in our society, the personal vehicle does not serve people who can’t drive, shouldn’t drive, don’t want to drive, aren’t allowed to drive or can’t afford to drive. If we do not happen to fall into one of those categories presently, we most likely will in the future, especially considering Maine’s demographic profile as the state with the highest median age in the country.

Teenagers, the visually impaired, people with suspended licenses, the economically stressed, those who are temporarily or permanently disabled, college students, etc., require a means to participate in life when a personally driven car is not the answer to the need for mobility.

While the buses of Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and Bangor-Brewer provide good transportation within those cities, it is the rural dwellers who lack transportation options to Maine’s larger communities. Job opportunities tend to be in urban areas, while affordable housing tends to be in rural areas. Linking the rural towns to the cities by bus or train is a critical necessity for economic health and personal satisfaction for many Mainers.

Through its Lakes Region Bus Service, Regional Transportation Program has endeavored to reduce the gaps in Cumberland County’s transportation deficiencies. An expansion of its services, however, needs to be supported by all levels of government, and this means taxpayer support.

Even if we are economically and personally capable of driving a vehicle, it is in our best interests to provide the general public with alternative transportation. The Route 302 corridor, one of the busiest in the state, could be relieved of its congestion with more regular RTP runs between Portland and the Sebago Lake region.

Recently, a friend and I boarded the RTP bus in Naples for a day in Portland. Another passenger also boarded in Naples that day, citing car troubles. We picked up two more riders: one in Raymond and another in Windham. Four of us were first-time riders and delighted that we could access this alternative mode of transportation.

The experience would have been even better if the bus had originated in Bridgton, where my friend and I live. This is a goal that many of us in Bridgton are working toward – affordably priced, regular bus service between Bridgton and Portland, with stops in all the towns in between.

Arriving in Portland just before 10 a.m., we walked through the Old Port and trekked up Munjoy Hill to catch a gorgeous view of Casco Bay from the Eastern Promenade. Our appetites piqued, we had lunch at one of the fine restaurants on Congress Street and checked out the shops on our way back to the center of the city for a movie.

Shopping and a stop at the Portland Public Library rounded out the day before we boarded the homeward bus. The rush hour traffic was not our problem as we relaxed and reflected on an enjoyable day in “the city.”

It is every city’s dream to attract foot traffic while minimizing car traffic. Economic benefits for Portland? Check. Environmental and safety benefits from fewer cars on the road? Check. Health benefits from walking all over Portland? Check.

Another benefit of the RTP bus? People can transfer to the Portland city buses and connect with the Downeaster and other places in Portland and South Portland. Likewise, people living in the Portland metro area can access the leisurely charms of the Sebago Lake region using RTP.

Voters in Windham, Raymond, Casco, Naples and Bridgton need to urge their elected officials to support a transportation alternative by funding the RTP bus service. Contact them soon.


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