Bus service budget needs towns’ aid

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — For years, it was simply a concept on paper: A bus that served the rural towns in the Lake Region and provided residents with a connection to Portland and the destinations in-between.

For almost 18 months, the Lake Region bus has been a reality — rolling down Route 302 from Naples to Portland.

Aside from a flat or a snowstorm, one of the things that could stop the wheels from rolling is a budget shortfall.

Still in its infancy stages, the Lake Region bus service has yet to become self-sustaining. In other words, the cost of riding the bus does not pay the expenses and, typically public transit is supported with additional funding along with revenue.

The four towns along the bus route — Naples, Casco, Raymond and Windham — are being asked to assist with a portion of the financial needs not covered by grants, in-kind donations and operating money, according to Regional Transportation Program (RTP) Executive Director Jack De Beradinis.

Additionally, the town of Bridgton would be added to the bus route if residents support budgeting the amount being requested.

Already, a citizens’ signature petition was validated. Therefore, that question will be put to the Bridgton voters during the Primary Election in June.

In the towns of Raymond, Casco and Naples, RTP’s financial request will appear as a warrant in the budget during the Town Meeting.

The 18-passenger bus with wheel chair accessibility is a hybrid electric-diesel vehicle, and it was purchased through federal grants. After some test runs, the bus service went into full swing in December 2013, De Beradinis said. The bus operates on a Monday through Friday schedule with four departures from Naples and four arrivals from Portland.

Currently, one of the bumps in the road is the budget necessary for the public transportation service.

“To continue the four round trips each weekday and also connecting to Bridgton, the budget is $109,000 a year,” De Beradinis said.

“We are asking the towns for $48,280. It is broken down into five equal parts,” he said.

“RTP is using $33,280 in Federal Transit Administrative funds. We are taking a portion of that to continue the bus service,” he said.

“We cover the dispatcher and the administrative costs. We continue to put that into the mix,” he said.

“We anticipate $15,000 in revenue from fares,” he said.

“Beyond that, there is what we call ‘additional contributions’ being made on behalf of this service,” he said.

“The purchase of the vehicle has not cost the towns anything,” De Beradinis said.

“The towns are reviewing our proposal to them in terms of financial support. They will be making a decision by early June or sooner,” he said.

The monetary request from each town is $9,600, he said.

According to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton, the Casco Finance Committee approved the $9,600 request as it put together the proposed 2015–16 budget earlier this month. Therefore, RTP’s request will appear before residents as a budget item to be approved at Town Meeting on June 10.

Morton has provided reasons that the town would want to support the service, which include: giving commuters a transportation alternative for getting to and from work; providing transportation to people whose vehicles break down; and reducing emissions and vehicular traffic on Route 302.

In the neighboring town of Raymond, the Budget/Finance Committee appropriated $5,000 for RTP’s regional bus service in Raymond’s proposed budget for 2015–16.

Chairman Rolf Olsen spoke to why that approved amount was lower than the initial request.

“Part of it is when we started looking at things, the initial amount they thought they needed came down (because) they got grants,” Olsen said.

“We had a series of questions that we sent to them; and we got their financial reports. Any questions went to them and they sent supporting information back to us,” he said.

“When they flushed out their budget and what they were looking for in grants came through, that number came down as well,” he said.

The committee also discussed ridership, and how that data pertained to Raymond residents.

“It was a new request. The $9,600 was quite a bit. It went from $0 to $9,600,” Rolf said, adding the committee also reduced the amount of funding requested by the Raymond Village Library.

Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak has said he will most likely budget for the new bus service. The final choice will be in the hands of resident at Town Meeting.

At this time, the Naples Budget Committee has vacant seats and not enough members for a quorum. Paraschak did not say whether or not RTP’s request has been discussed by the budget committee.

De Beradinis is hopeful the communities will see the benefits of the bus service, although the ridership may represent a small percentage of the population.

“When all the decisions are made, we will look at continuing the service,” RTP’s director De Beradinis said.

“It is in the hands of the town leadership. This is a service for the four towns. This is a service for them. We are providing the operational costs,” he said.

“Personally, it serves a benefit by providing a bus to their area. I am hopeful to continue serving the Lake Region, and to connect to Bridgton,” De Beradinis said.

Online survey captures bus opinions

What: Lakes Region Bus Survey

Where: Check out RTP Portland, ME Facebook page, or go to

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/GXFB3G6

A Link to RTP survey is also available on the websites of the towns along the bus route

Who: Community members in Casco, Naples, Raymond, Windham and Bridgton

Residents in Bridgton — one of the towns to which the Lake Region bus does not travel — have been passing on the link to a survey about the bus service.

The deadline to complete that survey has been extended for another couple of weeks. According to the Regional Transportation Program (RTP) website, the people conducting the survey would like to get input from more people from the towns of Casco and Naples. Those towns are currently served by the 18-passenger hybrid bus, which parks in the American Legion parking lot. The bus makes stops along Route 302 during its four runs between Naples and Portland and back to Naples during the weekdays.

According to RTP’s Executive Director Jack De Beradinis, the agency is conducting two types of surveys: An online one powered by Monkey Survey and a survey of people who ride the bus.

De Beradinis shared some of the responses RTP has received.

“For the on-board survey, we have 50 responses so far,” he said.

“These are some of the key items to note. Many of the riders would like more stops along the way,” he said.

“The primary reason for using the Lake Region bus is to go to work — back and forth to Portland, or back and forth along the way or to Westbrook,” he said.

“Many indicate they are visiting family and friends by use of the Lake Region bus,” De Beradinis said.

“Many report they are in favor of the town helping to support the financial operation, through taxes, naturally,” he said.

Meanwhile, 369 people went online to fill out the community survey.

“Most thought that the Lake Region bus supplies a benefit for the towns along Route 302,” he said.

Many people cited convenience as a main reason while other people said they rode the bus because they did not have reliable transportation, according to the survey outcome so far.

A few people opt to leave their vehicle parked at home and to ride the bus for environmental reasons such as reducing traffic and air pollution, De Beradinis said.

“About 77 percent report they are in support of the bus service continuing,” he said.

People who do not use the bus, but travel to the areas that the bus serves, stated “they need their car; they like the flexibility of the car; and they can afford to use their car,” he said.

“By in large, through both surveys, we are getting a strong positive support from those who use the bus and those who don’t use it, but might consider it,” he said.

According to De Beradinis, the surveys are still ongoing, with a cutoff date toward the end of April.

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