Passengers rode Greater Portland Metro buses 2.1 million times in 2019, setting a new record for the region’s largest public transit service.

Last year’s ridership was about 200,000 boardings, or 8 percent, higher than the previous record total in 2018, according to Metro. The new record confirms steadily growing use of the service, with ridership up 45 percent since 2013, Metro General Manager Greg Jordan said.

“I think the ridership increases we continue to see bode well for the region and in Portland and we hope to continue to make gains,” Jordan said.

Metro has added new lines and transit pass programs to increase ridership over the past few years, including a 2015 initiative to give Portland High School students transit passes.

Metro also launched a successful commuter service to communities north of Portland, called the Breez, which received permanent funding in 2019.

In late 2018, Metro started the Husky Line, a limited-stop bus service connecting the University of Southern Maine campuses in Gorham and Portland, which offers passes for USM students, staff and faculty. In 2019, Maine Medical Center implemented a free transit pass for its 10,000 employees in and around Portland.

The Husky Line and improved routes in west Portland, Westbrook and South Portland played a big role in boosting Metro’s ridership last year, Jordan said.

The Husky Line is on a three-year trial, and 2019 was its first full year of service. It carried about 195,700 passengers, short of the 300,000 annual passengers the agency aims for by 2021.

Metro intends to add another Husky Line stop in Westbrook near the Rock Row mixed-use development and nearby shopping centers that should increase ridership, Jordan said. The first phase of Rock Row, including a Market Basket supermarket, is expected to open this spring.

“Once phase one finishes, we are going to add that stop to the Husky Line that will certainly contribute a decent amount to boardings,” Jordan said. “I’m very optimistic we will get to our goal of 300,000 boardings a year.”

Metro intends to keep growing by rolling out a new fare system that will use digital tickets on smart cards or a mobile app. The system, shared with South Portland Bus Service and Biddeford-Saco- Old Orchard Beach-Transit, is expected to start this spring.

The bus company also plans to reconfigure two routes – numbered one and eight – on the Portland Peninsula to be faster and more efficient. The current route eight been in place for a long time, is infrequent, and only goes in one direction, Jordan said.

Metro plans to combine the routes for a bidirectional service with better service and times. It also wants to design the peninsula buses to be distinctive and eye-catching, Jordan said.

“The goal is to take route one and route eight and convert them into a really effective, frequent urban circulator that will help people get around, solve the congestion problem and be attractive to residents, tourists and people working downtown,” he said.

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