Colleges, communities steering toward more bus service

A BAT bus prepares to exit College Circle at Husson University after picking up a passenger there Wednesday afternoon, July 13, 2011. The Bangor BAT is expanding service with added routes and free rides for Husson and EMCC students.
A BAT bus prepares to exit College Circle at Husson University after picking up a passenger there Wednesday afternoon, July 13, 2011. The Bangor BAT is expanding service with added routes and free rides for Husson and EMCC students.
Posted July 13, 2011, at 9:16 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — More and more people are getting on board Bangor-area buses.

Recent agreements with the town of Hampden, Eastern Maine Community College and Husson University are increasing the frequency and convenience of Bangor’s BAT Community Connector local bus service.

A few weeks after an agreement between EMCC and BAT was approved by the Bangor City Council, the council’s government operations committee on Tuesday resoundingly endorsed a similar agreement between BAT and Husson in which Husson will pay the city $10,000 to allow students and staff members free bus fare for school year 2011-12.

“This has been in the works for about two years,” said John Rubino, Husson’s vice president of administration. “Our student government initially brought this to us. We have over 3,000 students, which creates lots of traffic and parking issues, so we hope it’ll be a win-win for us and the city.”

The deal with Husson will still need to be approved by a full vote of the council. It would not alter or add to the current BAT route or time schedule.

“No, everything would remain the same. We hit the campus twice an hour at the current time, each time from a different direction,” said Joe McNeil, the BAT Community Connector superintendent.

Bangor gets $15,000 a year from UMaine for the same arrangement, which began in April 2004 and covers the whole calendar year. UMaine also pays for 25 percent of the operating costs of the BAT buses going to campus. EMCC will pay BAT $18,000 per calendar year for its service.

There are no current proposals for similar arrangements with other Bangor-area educational institutions, such as Beal College or the University of Maine-Augusta’s Bangor campus, but that could change.

“I talked to two people at our Bangor campus and their belief is we used to have some kind of arrangement a few years back that provided either free or discounted passes for our students, but we don’t currently,” said Bob Stein, UMA’s director of external relations. But hearing “about Husson’s and EMCC’s arrangement with BAT has folks in Bangor interested in trying to revisit that, so I think those efforts will happen in the near future.”

Last month, Hampden approved money in its annual town budget to add full BAT service from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Currently, bus service in Hampden is limited to weekdays, also from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“That should begin in September,” Hampden Town Manager Susan Lessard said of the new schedule. “There has been a lot of desire voiced to us by residents for a while now to add Saturday service, so we’ll put it in effect for a year and then re-evaluate it afterward.”

Lessard said ridership went from 11,396 in 2003 to 22,033 in 2004, when Hampden added midday bus service to its morning and afternoon schedule. Ridership was almost 40,000 in 2009 and 41,000 last year, she said.

In Orono, convenient access to the UMaine campus has been accentuated by an extra service resulting from a cooperative venture involving BAT and the university.

“We started the Black Bear Orono Express in the fall of 2009. It’s a shuttle system BAT operates for us from downtown Orono to the university campus every 30 minutes, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” said Alan Stormann, UMaine’s assistant director for security, parking and transportation.

The Express shuttle service, which is billed separately by BAT and shared between the town of Orono and UMaine, also runs from noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays during the fall and spring semesters.

“My goals were to reduce the number of cars parking on campus as well as the carbon footprint from all the cars,” Stormann said. “The first year we anticipated 17,000 to 18,000 riders and ended up having around 39,000 riders. That’s not even counting the riders on the regular BAT routes, which I think are around 90,000 per year.”

BAT’s wheels are rolling as its service and routes expand.

“We’re also expanding BAT service to outer Hammond Street,” said McNeil. “Bangor has designated operating funds in the budget and we’re looking at implementing it in October.”

McNeil said there is currently no expanded or later-running service in place for “special event” nights like Waterfront Concerts shows at the Waterfront Pavilion.

“There has been talk, but no action on that now,” McNeil said. “Whatever we can do to grow our system while managing it financially is something we’re interested in.”

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