Naples wants bus to keep rolling

NW 39 lake region bus copyBy Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — The majority of residents living in Naples, one of the towns along the Lakes Region Bus route, approved the funds needed to keep that 18-month-old bus service rolling for another year.

From the very beginning of discussions about Article 44, people from both sides of the aisle expressed their opinions.

Newly seated Selectman Christine Powers explained why she backed the Lakes Region Bus service during Naples Town Meeting on Monday.

“The need for mass transit is incredible,” she said, citing benefits to senior citizens and teenagers without access to transportation.

“I would hope that voters would continue to support. It takes a long time to develop the ridership,” Powers said.

Maine has one of the largest elderly populations in the nation; and those residents might find riding a bus easier than trying to drive or rely on neighbors to get to doctor’s appointments or go grocery shopping. Meanwhile, high school-aged students living in this rural area would be able to use the bus to make trips to neighboring towns or to Portland. She said that many teens live in homes where families don’t have a vehicle, and the bus would give them mobility.

“It would be shortsighted” for the town not to fund this service and allow it to move forward, Powers said.

Selectman Rich Cebra, who was also seated on the board after last week’s election, said it was a large sum to pay for a few riders.

“No one could answer how many people use it,” he said.

“This is a request of $9,600 to pay for a previous debt that the shuttle service incurred,” Cebra said.

It was later noted by the person answering questions on the behalf of RTP that the funding request was for the upcoming bus budget, and it was “the first time he had heard of a ‘previous debt.’ ”

Article 44 asked taxpayers to add $9,600 to the 2015 budget to help with an anticipated budget shortfall for the Lakes Region Bus, the public transit service offered through Regional Transportation Program (RTP).

The Naples Budget Committee had voted to not recommend funding RTP, while the Naples Board of Selectmen decided not to vote on a recommendation and allow the residents to debate the budget item.

Robert “Bob” Caron Sr., who sat on the Naples Budget Committee, said when the budgetary item came before the committee, members asked how many Naples residents used the bus.

“I was told that maybe one or two (people) a week take the bus from Naples to Portland,” he said.

“Do we want to spend that kind of money,” Caron Sr., asked.

Resident Doug Bogden stepped to the microphone. Although he has a working vehicle, he sees indication that many people in the Lake Region communities do not have transportation and still need to get to places.

“I am a commuter who goes down Route 302. I see locals with thumbs out, hitchhiking. People don’t know how many people are walking down Route 302,” he said.

Another audience member spoke in favor of the bus.

“It has only been a year or two. It is something the town needs,” she said.

Larry Anton posed the question, “What level of ridership makes it viable?”

He suggested that if townspeople provided the funding to keep the bus service going, there should be a goal — both in terms of the numbers of riders and how long it might take to establish that magic number.

There was a person with some of the answers about the rural bus service still in its developing stages. Greater Portland Council of Governments (CPCOG) Planner Rick Harbison spoke as a representative for RTP.

He said when the regional bus service began in December 2013, it operated on federal grants and other donations.

“No transit service can support itself. It is considered a pilot service of sorts,” Harbison said.

“In terms of ridership, last summer there were 140 riders for the month of August. The average for the summer was 81 per month, or five riders per day,” he said.

He clarified that the bus only runs during the weekdays, Monday through Friday.

In the future, the RTP hopes to add more stops including the Naples Causeway. He said the regional bus would connect Portland bus stops at the airport, making it more convenient to bring visiting friends or relatives to the area.

“Ridership is increasing. It takes a while to establish and get it going,” he said.

Rick Paraschak said it would be easier to supplement the bus service budget, if the town had a say so in its evolution.

“We will probably have representation from towns,” Harbison said, adding he was uncertain about a timeframe for offering weekend bus stops.

“There is a vision for the bus where we could take it. But, (we are taking) baby steps at this point,” Harbison said.

Selectman Dana Watson called for a vote, saying, “It is not a great amount of money. It seems to raise the passion. We could talk about it all night long. Do you want to spend money or not?”

The vote was so moved; and approximately two-thirds of the 71 people present voted in favor of financing the Lake Region Bus service.

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