Bridgton board dubious on RTP bus subsidy

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer
Bridgton Selectmen are dubious of whether town money should be spent in order to expand the Regional Transportation Authority’s Portland-Naples commuter bus service to Bridgton.
Backers of a citizen’s petition signed by 602 residents seeking a $10,000 annual subsidy for the bus service were on hand at Tuesday’s Selectmen meeting. They were hopeful the board would agree to hold a special referendum as soon as possible, seeking voter approval of $5,000 to get the service up and running by Jan. 1, 2015. The other half of the annual amount could then be decided at the annual Town Meeting.
Selectmen decided the soonest the issue would be decided would be next June’s Town Meeting, and tabled the $5,000 funding request until their next meeting on Dec. 9. Because the funding request came as a result of a citizen’s petition, the board is required to place the question before voters at an open town meeting, but it does not have to hold a special town meeting to do so.
Selectman Chairman Bernie King said he favored waiting until next June because there most likely would be a larger turnout. Board member Doug Taft agreed.
Several supporters of bringing bus service to Bridgton were on hand Tuesday to plead their case. Catherine Samuels, president of the recently-formed Bridgton Transportation Authority, said “Public transportation is a vital part of the community” and not just for low income people, either.
“Many people can’t drive, shouldn’t drive, don’t want to drive, aren’t allowed to drive” as well as can’t afford to drive, Samuels said. Riding the bus to Portland instead of driving from Bridgton could save a commuter around $6,000 a year, she said, citing a study done by the Greater Portland Council of Governments.
The BTA has been meeting regularly for several months to brainstorm ways to bring the bus to Bridgton, ever since it was learned that federal subsidies for the expanded service had dried up.
Selectmen Paul Hoyt pointed out that no other town along the current Portland to Naples route pays a subsidy to RTP. Riders pay $3 per round trip, and $2 for senior citizens or students. Hoyt wanted to know how many Naples residents ride the bus on a regular basis, but neither Samuels nor fellow BTA member George Bradt had that information.
Bradt did say that ridership along the route, which stops in Windham and other towns, is around 4,000 riders a year. Without government subsidies, RTP cannot afford to maintain the service, he said. “No one else funds this,” said Bradt.
“And therin lies my point,” said Hoyt. “I’m not against (the bus) coming to Bridgton,” he added, but when residents are asked to pay fares and then the town kicks in money, too, “It seems like (RTP is) double-dipping.”
Selectmen said they wanted to take the funding request up as part of the budget process instead of acting on it right away, and they also wanted more specific ridership information from RTP.
Town Manager Bob Peabody said, regardless of budget deliberations, “If the outcome at Town Meeting is affirmative, yes, we’ll be spending $10,000 out of our budget to fund this.” He said the money is considered a subsidy.
Bradt said it makes sense to him to have the town chip in on the commuter bus, “because it is a town service” like other town services funded by taxpayers.
Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development Director Anne Krieg said she planned to meet this week with RTP officials in Portland, and would bring up the board’s concerns.

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