First announced at a March 7 news conference at the Casco Bay Island ferry terminal, the Transit Tomorrow plan is a regional collaboration aiming to create a 30-year plan for the most efficient use of all public transportation, from Brunswick to Biddeford. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents had a chance to weigh-in on a 30-year plan for public transportation Sept. 30, with many residents saying they’re fed up with heavy traffic and unreliable public transit arrival times.

“Sometimes it’s so crowded in town and traffic is so bad that I think I won’t go somewhere because it’s too jammed,” said resident Heather Kemp at a Greater Portland Council of Government meeting at City Hall on Monday. “… It can be challenging to sit in traffic. A ride that takes 10 minutes might take 30 minutes instead.”

The plan will determine how to better link services and communities while leveraging federal and state funding. Organized by the council and Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, which merged two years ago, the planning involves seven regional transportation agencies and includes rail and ferry services.

Kristina Egan, the council’s executive director, said the plan is expected to come together in about 11 months and will include targeting growth areas for service expansions. Some of the biggest obstacles in transportation, she said, include inadequate funding, traffic congestion and bus transfers. Many people, she said, want more frequent and reliable transportation.

Stephanie Carver, planning director at the council and project manager of Transit Tomorrow, said there are many benefits to using public transit and other modes of transportation, such as bicycling and walking. By riding the bus or taking shared transportation, such as Uber or carpooling, residents reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The plan aims to improve economic opportunities and sustainable living and promote affordable housing throughout the region, Carver said. It is hoped that a steering committee will draft recommendations in the spring and have a final plan approved by the council by fall 2020.

In total, ridership on regional public transportation has increased from 3.7 million in 2013 to 4.3 million in 2017, according to the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System. Within the agencies, the largest share of users remains the Metro bus system serving Portland and communities as far away as Gorham and Brunswick.

Metro has added several new routes over the past several years, including service to Gorham and the University of Southern Maine in August 2018, and a new route that runs along the western edge of Portland, through Westbrook, and on to the Maine Mall in South Portland.

On July 1, the South Portland bus service began providing Saturday night service and added time for inbound trips to accommodate increased traffic.

Egan said the future of transportation is uncertain, especially with the addition of autonomous cars, electric vehicles and shared riding services such as Lyft and Uber changing the traffic landscape at an unprecedented pace.

“We’ve got a lot of rapid technological change over the years. I’ve been in transportation 25 years and I’ve never seen a period of time where so many things are happening so fast,” she said. “We can’t predict the future, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to work with imperfect knowledge to craft this plan.”

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