Councilor Kimberly Cook has suggested the city find creative ways to fund an expansion of public transit, which will include the reworking of Greater Portland Metro’s Route 8. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — City Councilor Kimberly Cook is urging her colleagues and city staff to find new ways to increase its investment in public transit in anticipation of Greater Portland Metro’s expansion of bus routes around the peninsula.

A parking benefit district would earmark revenue from parking meters in that section of the city for transit improvements instead of being placed in the city’s general fund. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The planned bus service revamp likely will mean Metro will need a greater financial contribution from the city, she said. The city could look into establishing a parking benefit district somewhere in or around the Old Port to fund that extra contribution, rather than rely on taxpayer dollars, Cook said.

The money collected from parking meters within that district would go toward the city’s Metro bill or to other public transportation initiatives rather than into the city’s general fund. It could also fund initiatives to increase the walk-ability and bike-ability of Portland’s roads, add bus shelters and bicycle storage or improve sidewalk maintenance.

To get the most of the parking benefit district, the city could charge for parking on Sundays and holidays or until 9 p.m. nightly. Or, the parking rate could be based on demand. Parking meters are now in effect Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m and charge $1.75 per hour.

Portland residents could be exempted from the additional parking restrictions, she said.

Cook brought her idea to the council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee Jan. 15 in the hopes the committee will add it to its 2020 work plan.

“This is one way we might look to raise money to increase our transit capacity,” she told committee members.

Other communities around the country have created parking benefit districts and dynamic pricing and Cook feels the time if right for Portland to do the same.

“This seems to be the right time because we have set a goal of increasing our transit capacity. We know that is going to come at a cost. I am trying to find a way to raise funding that does not further exasperate our property taxpayers,” Cook told The Forecaster.

By spring 2021, Metro plans to restructure routes 1 and 8 and tweak other routes in an effort to provide faster and more convenient service, expand hours and bus frequency and to possibly introduce electric buses.

Route 1 runs along much of Congress Street between the Portland Transportation Center, Mercy campus on the Fore River, and the Eastern Promenade. Route 8, which hasn’t been changed in more than 20 years and only operates in one direction, winds along downtown Portland as it connects Hannaford at Back Cove, Congress Square, Monument Square, Maine Medical Center, Casco Bay Lines, Franklin Towers and Whole Foods.

Committee chairman Spencer Thibodeau said this week that he finds Cook’s proposal interesting, but because of other items on the committee’s radar, it would likely not be reviewed until summer.

“I’d look forward to see a more fleshed out proposal,” he said

There is no doubt, Thibodeau said, that transit-related items will be a big part of the committee’s work in 2020. He said he would like to have a transit-oriented summit in March or April with a public discussion about mass transit ideas floating around in the community.

“It’s time to bring all the folks to the table and create some sort of concrete plan,” he said.

Council Belinda Ray said she would like the committee to work on improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, exploring more smart traffic signals and introducing a resident parking program for Waterville Street.

“I think there is a lot we have to do around transit,” Ray said. “It is an important council goal and it should be here, too.”

Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon said the committee is set to meet again Feb. 26 when there will be a presentation on the latest with the autonomous vehicle shuttle proposal, residential parking permits and a discussion and possible vote on the new leash ordinance at Baxter Woods.

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