A popular commuter shuttle will continue to link Portland and communities north of the city, with three town councils’ unanimous votes to fund the service on an annual basis and join Metro, the regional transit agency.

Brunswick town councilors voted Monday to provide ongoing funding to the Breez shuttle. Freeport took the same step last month, and Yarmouth did so in August.

The Breez makes 13 weekday round trips with limited stops in the three towns and Portland. It started three years ago with a federal grant and has exceeded expectations. In the last year, the Breez carried a total of almost 71,240 passengers, far more than initial projections.

If any one of the towns had decided not to support the service, adjustments would have been needed, including the possibility of reducing trip frequency or stops, Metro General Manager Greg Jordan said.

“To have the unanimous support of all three councils was a great thing,” he said. “We are happy with the result, we’ve demonstrated transit works in southern Maine.”

Despite its success, the service had an uncertain future just a few months ago.

A $959,000 federal grant used to subsidize the three-year pilot service ran out this year, leaving the communities to decide if they wanted to steeply increase their contributions to continue it.

The Breez will cost each community $78,000 a year to operate, plus a share of future capital improvement costs. That’s about $47,650 more than Freeport and Yarmouth were paying and roughly $25,360 more than Brunswick did.

In the end, all three communities decided the cost was worth it. Funding requirements fluctuate based on operations, Jordan said. Towns might pay more if fuel, labor and insurance costs increase, or pay a less if ticket revenue grows.

John Perreault, chairman of the Brunswick Town Council, voted to support the service but is personally still uncertain about his town’s financial commitment and the cost of bus replacement and capital improvement.

“Many other councilors are highly on board and a lot of citizens want us to do it no matter what the cost is,” Perreault said. “I’m always skeptical of what something is going to cost me.”

The three communities will get representation on the Metro board of directors starting next year, joining Portland, Falmouth and Westbrook. It will be the first time in about 30 years that the board represents more than three communities.

Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick board members will likely focus on the Breez service, but Jordan hopes it will draw them into a broader conversation about regional mass transit and development.

The Breez could be a model for service with more capacity and frequency along the congested highway north of Portland, Jordan said.

“It is a great first step toward greater expansion along the Interstate 295 corridor,” he added. “We are at the beginning of this I think.”

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