BANGOR, Maine — City councilors on Monday approved an order allowing the city to solicit donations to help fund the expansion of public transportation to Outer Hammond Street via Odlin Road.
For several months, councilors have been discussing the idea of adding a BAT Community Connector bus route to that part of the city.
Currently, the bus stops at the end of Hammond Street where it intersects with Maine Avenue, and many riders are forced to walk the remaining distance if they need to access Odlin Road or Outer Hammond. Councilors have long felt there was a great demand for service there and have been increasingly worried about the safety of pedestrians walking on a busy road that has no sidewalk.
Earlier this year, BAT Superintendent Joe McNeil presented the City Council with a plan that would add Monday-Friday service in the morning and early afternoon hours. The increased service would cost the city approximately $46,000.
McNeil said bus fares would cover about $32,000 of that cost, but the city was reluctant to absorb the remaining costs, especially in tough economic times.
That’s where area businesses stepped forward.
A number of businesses and nonprofits in the area, including the Ranger Inn and Discovery House, the largest of Bangor’s three methadone treatment facilities, have said they would help subsidize the cost.
Per city charter, councilors needed to first pass an order that allowed them to accept donations for a specific program. They did so unanimously on Monday.
Councilor David Nealley said the expansion was long overdue and he said Bangor has an obligation to provide services such as public transportation.
Councilor Cary Weston called it a great step for the city that will have a daily impact as early as this summer.
In addition to anticipated donations to cover the increased bus service, the city recently received federal funds to buy a new bus and increase the fleet. Also, additional used buses were donated recently to Maine by a bus system in Yonkers, N.Y. Bangor is slated to receive at least one.
The BAT is a fixed-route public transit system operated by the city of Bangor for the communities of Greater Bangor, including Bangor, Brewer, Veazie, Orono, Old Town, Hampden and the University of Maine.
The system offers nine separate bus routes that run every hour or every half-hour Monday through Friday during normal business hours. Some routes offer Saturday service.
The last route added by the BAT was the “Mallhopper” in 2007. It has since become one of the most popular routes and is one of the reasons BAT ridership has increased steadily in the last several years.
Growing demand has come with a price, though. Last year, as part of Bangor’s budget discussion, councilors approved a fare increase from $1 to $1.25 to further offset growing operating losses.