Bus route support strong in Bridgton

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Residents in favor of bringing public transportation to Bridgton have mounted a strong challenge to the “vote no” recommendation by Bridgton Selectmen regarding a citizen’s petition to help fund a Lake Region bus route. They say the benefits of helping Regional Transportation Program operate a Portland to Bridgton route far outweighs the $10,000 annual cost to taxpayers.

“For people like me who don’t like to drive, a bus service would be so important and could enhance Bridgton so much,” said Sally Chappell at Tuesday’s public hearing on the June 9 referendum questions. Question 1 asks voters if they want to fund the service by raising the mil rate by one cent, which would amount to around $10,000.

“The increase is one dollar a year on a $100,000 home,” added George Bradt, who came armed with copies of a four-color fact sheet and single-panel brochure. “The increase is very, very tiny.”

The fact sheet stated that in a survey of 400 Lake Region residents by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, “Three out of four people support funding a portion of the bus’s operations with local taxpayer money.” One in six people said lack of a vehicle can be a barrier to employment to them, the survey also found.

RTP is maintaining that it cannot afford to continue its pilot program that has provided service from Portland to Naples over the past year unless the Lake Region towns along the route chip in. Besides Bridgton, the towns of Naples, Casco, Raymond and Windham are also being asked to contribute $10,000 each. The bus would run four times a day, leaving from the Bridgton Community Center, and would make stops in each of the towns on the run.

“If five towns can raise $50,000, the service will start July 1st,” said Bradt.

A taxpayer subsidy of RTP, a United Way agency serving 27 towns in Cumberland County, doesn’t sit well with the majority of selectmen, although board members Bob McHatton and Paul Hoyt support a “yes” vote on the question. The majority of the board thinks ridership by Bridgton residents would be too small to justify the funding, and are also questioning why non-Lake Region towns and cities aren’t being asked for a subsidy. Several board members feel that the $3 charge per person for a one-way trip ($2 students/seniors) should be mostly sufficient for RTP to recover its costs.

Anne Krieg, Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, said representatives from GPCOG and RTP will be attending the board’s next meeting on Tuesday, May 26, to explain the program and answer questions.

Chappell said it wouldn’t only be residents who are unable to drive who would take advantage of the service.

“It’s also for people like me. I think the time has arrived,” she said. She added that she is “challenging the notion” when people tell her she shouldn’t live in a rural town like Bridgton if she doesn’t like to drive.

Community Development Committee member Phyllis Roth echoed that sentiment, saying, “If we had some public transportation, Bridgton would be more attractive,” particularly to older, retired people. “It would look a lot better on your website,” she added.

Near the close of the debate, some opposing board members seemed to give the question more consideration. Member Doug Taft said that if the Lake Region bus got the funding it needs to operate, he would want RTP to provide solid data after a year on just how many Bridgton residents were using the service.

Chappell said ridership would increase over time as more people became aware of the service. And, Bradt said that the bus service could even spur real estate growth, “from people who are tired of living in an apartment in Portland.”

It was also noted that, in all likelihood, more residents would use the bus to travel to Windham for jobs or shopping than travel all the way to Portland.

Please follow and like us: