The 1 p.m. Southbound Metro BREEZ waits for passengers at the stop in front of Brunswick Station in this 2018 photo. Darcie Moore/The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Town councilors voted earlier this week to extend Brunswick’s Metro BREEZ service for another six months, costing the town roughly $48,000 next year.

It could cost as much as $77,950 by 2021 if they elect to join the Metro service permanently.

The Metro BREEZ bus service launched in June 2016 as a three-year pilot project connecting Freeport, Yarmouth, Falmouth and Portland. In August 2017, the service extended to Brunswick and the stops in Falmouth have since been eliminated, with Falmouth on an alternate route, Assistant Town Manager Ryan Leighton told the Town Council in a memo.

The BREEZ stops at Maine Street by School Street, Maine Street by Everett Street, Bath Road by Bowdoin College and Station Avenue by the train station and Town Hhall, Leighton said. It also stops at L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport.

Ridership has exceeded original estimates by 24 percent in the first year and 47 percent in the second year of Brunswick’s participation, according to Leighton. BREEZ officials intend to transition to regular service on Jan. 1.

Since last July, Metro officials estimate that there were 18,747 boardings and 12,929 “alightings,” or people getting off the bus, in Brunswick. In Portland, there were 25,858 boardings and 31,671 alightings.

Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick will share the cost of the service from July to the end of December – Metro operates on a December to January fiscal year – and if they decide to continue the service, Brunswick would become a voting member of the Metro board of directors, Leighton said.

Brunswick paid roughly $43,000 for the 2018 year and just over $50,000 for 2019, he said. The first two years were subsidized because it was a pilot program.

Continuing the service for six months will cost an estimated $34,510, coupled with Brunswick’s existing obligation of $13,500 for the purchase of a BREEZ bus, bringing the total to just over $48,000.

Bowdoin College will cover 20 percent of the annual cost, according to a memo from Greg Jordan, general manager. Bowdoin’s $9,602 contribution leaves Brunswick with a $38,408 bill.

The money was already included in the 2020 budget, Leighton said.

Town officials will have to decide whether to continue the service after Jan. 1, 2020, and foot the almost $78,000 bill in Brunswick’s 2021 budget. This increase has been known since the pilot extended into Brunswick, and caused hesitation from councilors at the time who were concerned about future budgets.

If they decide to do so, Brunswick may withdraw from the service at the end of a fiscal year “provided that it has given the board of directors at least one year’s written intention to do so,” according to meeting materials.

Later in the year, Metro plans to increase fares across the transit system, with fares for the BREEZ going from $3 to $4 per ride and introduce new fare payment options that will allow riders to pay using a smart card or app, Jordan said. They are considering extending service to Saco and Scarborough.

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