BAR HARBOR — The Island Explorer bus system that serves Acadia National Park and the surrounding communities is being put on hold indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fare-free service run by Downeast Transportation typically begins on Memorial Day weekend on the Schoodic Peninsula and June 23 on Mount Desert Island, and runs through the second Monday in October.

“To meet social distancing guidelines issued by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Island Explorer buses could only carry 12 passengers each as compared to the normal capacity of 30 seated passengers and 14 standing,” Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, said in a statement on Monday. “During busy times of the season, the bus system often operates at capacity and requires passengers to wait in queues for the next bus with room for riders.”

Last year, the Island Explorer system carried more than 648,000 passengers on its propane-powered buses.

“We recognize that park visitors, residents and commuters love the bus system, so we do not take this action lightly,” Murphy said. “But the safety of our employees and the general public is paramount. We’re confident that postponement is the right thing to do at this time.”

Murphy said Downeast Transportation and its partners, which include the national park and Friends of Acadia, will continue to assess whether conditions might allow the bus service to operate this summer. He said factors to be considered include social distancing guidelines and the number of bus drivers Downeast Transportation would be able to hire.

“Typically, we hire around 120 drivers for the entire season,” Murphy said. “Many of these are local school bus drivers who return to their regular jobs in the fall, so we depend on drivers who travel to the region to provide service in the fall. That could be challenging this year.”

Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said postponing the service is “the most prudent action to take.”

David MacDonald, president and CEO of Friends of Acadia, said his organization also supports the decision.

“The Island Explorer is among the most popular programs that Friends of Acadia helps fund,” he said. “FOA pledges to remain flexible and prepared to help in the future should there be a recommendation to resume some level of service later in the season.”

Downeast Transportation continues to operate commuter bus routes from Bangor, Ellsworth, Cherryfield and Milbridge to Bar Harbor on weekdays. It also operates limited public transportation routes throughout Hancock County for travel deemed essential under Gov. Janet Mills’ COVID-19 guidelines.

Murphy said Downeast Transportation adheres to social distancing guidelines on these routes and has implemented a comprehensive cleaning regimen to protect the safety of drivers and passengers.

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