Lakes Region Explorer bus service celebrated

AMONG THOSE ON HAND to celebrate the start of bus service in Bridgton were, from left, Sally Chappell and another member of the Bridgton Transportation Coalition; Rick Harbison, planner for the Greater Portland Council of Governments; Carmen Lone, executive director of the Bridgton Community Center; Jack Uminski, Regional Transportation System bus driver; Phyllis Ginzler, state representative; Paul Hoyt, Bridgton selectman; Bill Hurley, transit supervisor for the Department of Transportation; Jack DeBeradinis, RTP executive director; Ken Murphy, Bridgton selectman; Bob Peabody, Bridgton town manager; and Anne Krieg, Bridgton planner.  (Geraghty Photo)

AMONG THOSE ON HAND to celebrate the start of bus service in Bridgton were, from left, Sally Chappell and another member of the Bridgton Transportation Coalition; Rick Harbison, planner for the Greater Portland Council of Governments; Carmen Lone, executive director of the Bridgton Community Center; Jack Uminski, Regional Transportation System bus driver; Phyllis Ginzler, state representative; Paul Hoyt, Bridgton selectman; Bill Hurley, transit supervisor for the Department of Transportation; Jack DeBeradinis, RTP executive director; Ken Murphy, Bridgton selectman; Bob Peabody, Bridgton town manager; and Anne Krieg, Bridgton planner.
(Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Town officials and true believers of public transit came together Monday to celebrate the journey of finally bringing bus service to Bridgton.

The Lakes Region Bus, soon to be renamed the Lakes Region Explorer, began service Monday, Aug. 17, from Portland to the Bridgton Community Center, offering four trips a day on weekdays with stops in Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham and Westbrook.

“Whether you’re day-tripping in the Lakes Region, traveling to work in Portland or making the connection between Lakes Region towns, the Lakes Region Explorer is a great way to travel,” said an official press release from the bus provider, Regional Transportation Systems. As a pilot program, the bus provided service all last year as far as Naples, but its future was in doubt until this summer, when voters in the towns along its route agreed to help chip in to meet the service’s $139,000 annual operating costs.

Rick Harbison, planner for the Greater Portland Council of Governments, called the Lakes Region Explorer “a great example of collaboration on so many levels” — the result of many months of planning and marketing by GPCOG, RTP, the state Department of Transportation, Opportunity Alliance and local town and city governments along the route.

Harbison said a regional GPCOG survey done this spring showed strong support for public funding, and helped tip the balance in the bus’s favor. Support in Bridgton was the strongest among the 450 survey respondents, with 88% of Bridgton residents supporting public funding.

Carmen Lone, executive director of the Bridgton Community Center, said a strong core of Bridgton residents have been working on public bus service for seven years. “I’m so happy that people did not give up on it,” she told the gathering of around 20 people outside the Community Center, with the bus parked by the front door. “They pursued it in every way they could.”

A LOOK INSIDE — The Lakes Region Bus, soon to be renamed the Lakes Region Explorer, has 18 seats and two wheelchair-accessible stations. It is air-conditioned and has Wi-Fi and a bike rack, offering a one-way trip from the Bridgton Community Center to Portland for $3 ($2 for seniors), with stops in Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham and Westbrook. The bus offers four round trips each weekday, starting at 6 a.m. in Bridgton, with the latest return at 10:15 p.m.  (Geraghty Photo)

A LOOK INSIDE — The Lakes Region Bus, soon to be renamed the Lakes Region Explorer, has 18 seats and two wheelchair-accessible stations. It is air-conditioned and has Wi-Fi and a bike rack, offering a one-way trip from the Bridgton Community Center to Portland for $3 ($2 for seniors), with stops in Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham and Westbrook. The bus offers four round trips each weekday, starting at 6 a.m. in Bridgton, with the latest return at 10:15 p.m.
(Geraghty Photo)

Town Manager Bob Peabody agreed that the efforts of the Bridgton Transportation Group were instrumental in bringing the service to Bridgton. “They took matters into their own hands.”

Sally Chappell, who was one of the transportation group’s members, gave much of the credit to resident George Bradt, who was unable to attend the celebration.

“When he takes on an issue, he really goes to it and gets the job done,” she said of Bradt. “This is democracy in action. Because of persistence, because of people in need like my husband, who hasn’t driven a day in his life.”

Chappell noted that Bridgton has an aging demographic, and “All of us will come to a point when we have to put driving in the hands of professionals.”

Peabody joked that Bridgton might want to consider a new slogan — “Getting rid of one squeaky wheel at a time.”

The bus will have three RTP drivers assigned to it. One of them, Jack Uminski, was on hand for the celebration, and said he made several pickups in Bridgton his first two days on the Bridgton-to-Portland route. “One was a lady with a big suitcase,” he said.

Uminski said he expects the ridership numbers in Bridgton will increase as word-of-mouth spreads that the low-cost transportation service is available.

RTP Executive Director Jack DeBeradinis said the nonprofit transportation organization hopes to increase from the 5,500 trips provided in the first year of operation of the Lakes Region Bus to 7,500 trips over the coming year. From January 2014 to April 2015, there was an average of five Naples riders per day, with two from Raymond, five from Windham, one from Westbrook and 12 from Portland.

Several people speaking at the celebration said they believe the bus service will provide an economic boon to Bridgton and the Lakes Region, drawing commuters from the Greater Portland area for a day of shopping. Others mentioned the jobs benefit for people unable to find work locally but without transportation to Windham, Westbrook or Portland.

 

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