Proposed changes to Greater Portland Metro’s Falmouth itinerary on Route 7 would extend bus service to include Maine Medical Center and Thompson’s Point in Portland. Contributed / Greater Portland Metro

Greater Portland Metro is proposing a pilot program in Falmouth that could include more frequent stops, extended hours, additional stops on Congress Street and the ability to schedule rides, all anticipated at no cost to the town for at least two years.

One of the biggest changes being considered is replacing the OceanView loop on Blueberry Lane and the Town Market loop on Foreside Road with on-demand service. Riders along the route that serves the Town Market and OceanView stops would use a mobile app or call Metro to schedule a ride that would bring them to Walmart or Shaw’s, where they could transfer to Route 7 service to Portland.

The bus stop at OceanView in Falmouth could be replaced by an on-demand shuttle service by August 2022. Rachel Vitello / The Forecaster

“Microtransit works better in rural areas where ridership is lower,” GP Metro Director of Transit Development Mike Tremblay said at a Dec. 3 Greater Portland Metro informational meeting. “A bus on standby is a much better model for this area.”

Metro hopes to choose a transportation software firm this spring to create an app that would allow users to request a ride and have all changes in place by August 2022. The so-called microtransit pilot program would run for nine to 12 months, at which point Metro would evaluate the service and decide whether to continue, make adjustments or consider other options.

Regular service for each stop would be every 30 minutes. Currently, service is every 60 minutes Monday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and every 60 minutes on Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Hours of service will also be extended to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Service on Congress Street would be extended to include stops at Maine Medical Center and Thompson’s Point. Stops at Congress Street will be shortened to every 15 minutes, which appealed to  Dr. Lesley Gordon of Falmouth, who works at Maine Medical Center.

“(T)he current Route 7 model cannot get me to work early enough to start my shift at Maine Medical Center,” Gordon said. “If the pilot is approved … we will increase our public transit use from once per month to several times per week at least.”

Two additional buses will also be added to daily operations. All the proposed changes would add four or five jobs, according to Falmouth Town Councilor Hope Cahan, who is also president of the Metro Board of Directors.

The Falmouth Town Council will take public comment and consider approving Metro’s proposed changes Dec. 13.

The total operating cost for all the changes comes out to $555,314 for 2022, according to Metro’s budget and funding proposal. With federal funding and other grants, the changes should come at no cost to the town from 2022 to 2024, Tremblay said. If the changes become permanent, town funding may be needed after 2024.

Metro is seeking most of the funding from the American Rescue Plan, but is also looking to the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program for funds. Tremblay said Metro should hear back about ARPA funding by April at the latest.

The town council discussed the need for better public transit at the beginning of the year and has been in discussions with GP Metro through 2021 about how to best accomplish that, Cahan said.

“Our public transit lines are really only in two locations and they’re fixed. They’re very limited,” she said. “This broadens the ability for residents to be able to try public transit. I’m hopeful it will get people out of their cars and onto the bus. It will save them time and cut down on our emissions, therefore making us better climate partners.”

Metro has a survey available until Dec. 15 to gauge the public’s interest in these improvements at gpmetro.org. The Metro board is scheduled to meet Dec. 16 to review the surveys and vote on the enhancements.

Comments are not available on this story.