The Shoreline Explorer has suspended much of its service for 2022 because of a lack of drivers. The suspension includes the Blue 4b route, which ran from Kennebunk’s Lower Village to Wells. Photo courtesy of  York County Community Action Corporation

A driver shortage will force the suspension of a popular trolley service through York County beach towns this summer amid Maine’s unprecedented labor shortage.

The news disappointed some hotel and campground owners whose guests enjoy using the trolley to get around. Without a public transit option, traffic congestion in the heavily traveled area could get worse, hotel operators warned.

York County Community Action Corp. said it will not run three Shoreline Explorer trolley routes in Wells, Kennebunk, Ogunquit and York. The nonprofit has struggled to hire trolley drivers and has been forced to reduce service to some of its other routes in recent months, it said.

To run the full service that ran prior to 2020, the agency would need 20 more drivers, York County Community Action Transportation Director Tom Reinauer said. To run even the truncated 9 a.m.-to-4 p.m. schedule it had last year would require about eight drivers it simply can’t hire right now, Reinauer added.

“It is just really hard to find workers at this point. Not just for our services, but for hotel properties and everyone else,” Reinauer said. Hiring enough people with a commercial driver’s license has proved incredibly difficult in a competitive labor market.

“The trollies need a commercial driver’s license with a passenger endorsement,” Reinauer said. “Those drivers are a hot commodity. Everyone is competing to find qualified drivers – transit agencies, shipping companies – there are just not enough people to go around.”

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Passenger trollies usually start running in mid-June and stop in early September. The service started 17 years ago and carried about 60,000 passengers a year until the pandemic, Reinauer said. It did not run in 2020, and last year it did so on a limited schedule and carried about 17,000 people.

The suspended services are the Blue Line, which runs from Kennebunk’s Lower Village to Wells with stops at Wells Harbor and Crescent Beach, and the Purple Line, which runs from Perkins Cove in Ogunquit to York’s Short Sands Beach. The Purple Line was suspended last year, too.

Some hotel and campground operators were surprised to learn the trollies would not traverse the busy Route 1 corridor this summer.

“That’s going to be a huge impact,” said Cheryl Sturmer, at Sea-Vu, an RV campground in Wells.

Guests that stay at the campground sometimes come without a car and rely on the trollies to get to the beach, restaurants and shopping, Sturmer said. She fields calls from upcoming guests who want to know when the trollies start running and get schedule updates.

“We don’t really have a choice but to let them know that due to driver shortages they will not be running those lines,” Sturmer said. “The limited hours last year was an impact – not having it at all is a much bigger deal, obviously.”

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Ever since public-facing businesses began recovering from the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, employers across Maine and the country have struggled to hire enough workers. The shortage has affected all industries, but none more than hospitality.

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At the Lafayette Oceanfront Resort at Wells Beach, General Manager Katy Kelly anticipated more traffic congestion and tougher beach parking if the trollies don’t run.

“It moves people around to restaurants without clogging up the traffic – it allows people to not have cars on the road,” Kelly said. “It will make traffic much worse not having it, and it will make it more difficult for people to get to the beach.”

Even though losing the trollies is a blow, Kelly understands the reason – everyone is having trouble finding enough workers.

“It is not a money issue, it is a labor issue, and that is something we all have – it is not like I can lend them people,” she said.

As it suspends the coastal trollies, York County Community Action will double summer service on its Orange Line, which runs from Wells to Sanford, including a stop at Wells Beach.

“We should be able to pull that off,” Reinauer said.


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