ORONO, Maine — There will be bats, not black bears, and the buses will be red, not blue.
But the University of Maine and town of Orono are both still happy to have a free shuttle to take people from downtown to two points on the UMaine campus, with a shorter time loop than the regular bus system and extended hours.
The Town Council voted Monday 7-0 to make a three-year commitment to Bangor Area Transportation. The shuttle service will start at the beginning of the fall 2009 semester.
The aim is to bring people into the downtown area for, say, a bite to eat at lunch and to shuttle downtown residents to campus, therefore increasing business at local eateries and reducing the number of cars on the road and in the school’s overflowing parking lots.
“We’d like to encourage visitors to campus to come and ride on a shuttle and not bring a vehicle,” said Alan Stormann, UMaine’s assistant director of the parking and transportation division. “We certainly want to reduce the amount of vehicles on campus.”
Orono Village Association co-president Michele Goldman of Fiberphilia yarn shop on Mill Street also spoke in favor of the shuttle. Local businesses will be able to advertise on the BAT buses.
“Actually, merchants are very excited about advertising on bus space,” she said.
The Department of Transportation has offered to purchase two shuttle buses at $100,000 per bus and then lease the buses to BAT for $1 a year. DOT also offered three years of operational funding in the amount of $30,000 a year, which reduces the $120,000 operating costs to $90,000. The town and the university will split the difference.
UMaine already has committed its $45,000, associate vice president Elaine Clark told the council.
Town planner Evan Richert said the 30-minute loop would have stops downtown and at the Student Recreation and Fitness Center and the Memorial Union. The bus also can be flagged down at locations along the route.
Staff from BAT and Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System developed the loop, which will hit Route 2, Mill, Pine, and Park streets, and Rangeley Road. The heavily populated Orchard Trails area could be included in the future.
The shuttle bus will run Monday through Saturday from September through May, and will run until midnight Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There will be no Sunday service.
There is a BAT system through town, but it takes around an hour and stops running in the evening. The current system, which will not be free, and new shuttle will be integrated.
The town can opt out of the contract with 30 days’ notice, BAT superintendent Joe McNeil said.
The city of Old Town was involved in the initial talks last year, but the city determined expanding the system would not be feasible at this time.
The only regret in all of this for those involved was that BAT couldn’t include some school colors or designation on the buses. It’s important to maintain a consistent color for all of the buses, BAT superintendent Joe McNeil said.
“I’m not a hard-liner. We may be able to be a little flexible, …” McNeil said. “Maybe we can do the hubcaps or something.”