I have the privilege of serving as planning director for the Greater Portland Council of Governments. In the last decade we’ve all seen downtown parking, regional commuter traffic and workforce shortages get worse.

Affordable housing for our workforce has become harder to find as land values have increased, putting pressure on both employers and employees. Workers are traveling farther to get to their jobs, paying more for driving and sometimes for parking, and contributing to a growing cycle of congestion, cost and labor shortages. Clearly, we’re on an unsustainable trajectory.

These problems are connected, however, and so are their solutions. A strong regional public transportation network is critical to the economic future of both the city and the region. We all want less congestion in and around Portland. And southern Maine needs more workers and more jobs. A strong regional network of bus, train and ferry service is one important key to getting, and keeping, both.

Recently, the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System released “Moving Southern Maine Forward: Short-Term Ways to Improve the Region’s Public Transit.” Written in cooperation with the region’s seven transit agencies – Greater Portland Metro, South Portland Bus Service, ShuttleBus-Zoom, Casco Bay Lines, Amtrak Downeaster, Regional Transportation Program and York County Community Action – the report recommends steps to make it easier and more convenient to hop on a bus, a train or a ferry and get where you need to go.

To encourage more people to use public transportation, we need to decrease the amount of time it takes to use it, improve the connections between our seven public transportation systems and do a better job telling residents about the transit options available to them. Here are actions we can take now:

Connect routes. Make transit service routes and connections easier to use with schedules that coordinate better, and hubs that are more welcoming and functional. The public needs a fully integrated system that welcomes them and makes using public transportation easy.

Market services. Explore the potential for unified branding so people know about all of the services offered by the region’s seven transit agencies, and use them together. Marketing the system as a whole will help the public see our system’s ability to meet their transportation needs.

Establish a unified fare system. Explore creating a single fare system that lets you pay once and ride every service. It isn’t just a matter of convenience to the riders – a single fare system also will help the public understand the savings that public transportation creates.

Fund public transportation. Increase funding for public transportation so we can maintain what we have and expand the network. Investments in public transportation are critical to our economic future if we want growth that doesn’t overwhelm available parking and worsen congestion.

We know, based on public opinion research, that public transportation is valued by voters and visitors alike. Our system has even greater potential to serve our residents and our tourists, our employers and their employees. We know that ridership will increase if transit becomes more streamlined and convenient.

We know that high-quality transit spurs economic development that is more walkable, more sustainable and creates tighter-knit communities. And we know the public understands the need to better fund improvements to our buses, ferries and trains.

So in the months ahead we’ll be working to take steps to strengthen our regional public transportation system, collaborating with our many partners to make a good network even better. And as we implement the recommendations from Moving Southern Maine Forward we welcome your ideas and involvement.

If you’d like to share your energy, your thoughts and your priorities for the future of public transportation in our region, just send me an email at [email protected]. And don’t stop there.

Join the ongoing discussions in our region about the future of public transportation, and how a stronger, easier-to-use and better-funded public transportation system will be a foundation for our region’s growth in the next decade, and beyond.

With your support, we can have the growth, the convenience and the cost savings that a stronger public transportation system can deliver. It’s a future that our region needs, and with your active engagement, it will happen.

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