ELLSWORTH, Maine — The seasonal bus system that provides free rides on and around Mount Desert Island during the summer has plans to add stops in Ellsworth to its schedule this summer.
When the bus system starts operating again on Thursday, June 23, it will run a morning bus from Ellsworth to the Acadia National Park Visitors Center and then another back to Ellsworth from the visitors center in the evening, according to Island Explorer officials. The service to and from Ellsworth is being funded by donations from Timberland Acres RV Park, Eagles Lodge Motel, Witham Family Partnerships, Ellsworth Evening Rotary and Friends of Acadia. The Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce, the city of Ellsworth and Acadia National Park also have helped make the Ellsworth service possible, officials said.
Downeast Transportation General Manager Paul Murphy indicated last week that he and other Island Explorer officials are “cautiously optimistic” about adding the Ellsworth route. With the support of major donations from L.L. Bean and other sources, Downeast Transportation operates the seasonal, propane-powered bus service on MDI.
“We are very enthusiastic and excited about adding the new Ellsworth service,” Murphy said. “We know there is a growing market in Ellsworth.”
Murphy added that the Ellsworth-based donors who are making the added service possible are “very optimistic” about its popularity. He said that, over the long run, the number of Island Explorer buses or runs in Ellsworth could increase.
“We’re hoping this is going to lead to more robust service over time in Ellsworth,” Murphy said. “it will depend on ridership, funding, [and] vehicular resources, among other things.”
Current plans call for the Ellsworth bus to depart the local Ramada Inn at 9:20 a.m. each morning and, five minutes later, to depart from the Hampton Inn on the opposite side of High Street. Three minutes later, it will stop at the Eagle’s Lodge Motel and then, in another five minutes or so, it will stop at the Timberland Acres RV Park on Route 3 in Trenton as it makes its way toward MDI.
The bus is expected to arrive each morning at 10:05 a.m. at the Visitors’ Center, where riders then can hop on another bus into downtown Bar Harbor, where all the Island Exporer bus routes converge. The return trip to Ellsworth will leave the Visitors Center at 4:55 p.m. each afternoon.
Murphy stressed that the service, by law, is open and free to the public. Anyone can hop on at any of those stops, not just lodging guests, he said.
Due to limited funding, the Ellsworth service is expected to operate only through Sept. 4, 2011, Murphy said. All other Island Explorer routes are expected to operate as usual through Columbus Day weekend in October.
Murphy said this will be the service’s 13th year of operation and that Island Explorer officials hope to move into their new operations base, at the Acadia Gateway Center in Trenton, by the end of the calendar year. The bus maintenance and storage facility at the Acadia Gateway Center, which is under construction, will be the first permanent home for the bus system, which for years has operated out of the parking lot at the Trenton IGA, further south on Route 3 closer to MDI.
The bus service has 30 vehicles, 25 of which are continuously on the road during the peak summer season, according to Murphy. The other five are kept ready for back-up use in case another bus falls out of service, he said.
Murphy said that given the good weather last summer, the Island Explorer system will be hard pressed this year to match 2010’s estimated ridership total of 412,000 passengers. The 2010 ridership total is the highest annual total the bus system has ever had, he said.