ROCKLAND, Maine — There were differences of opinions voiced Tuesday on the need for a public transportation system to serve the coastal towns of Knox County.
Representatives from Rockland, Camden, Rockport and Thomaston, along with members of local service agencies gathered Tuesday at Rockland City Hall for a meeting with transportation consultant Tom Crikelair. Crikelair has worked on small public transit projects in Maine including the Island Explorer on Mount Desert Island and the Brunswick Explorer.
Lee Karker, who heads the Coastal Trans organization in the midcoast area, said there is a demand for public transportation.
“I’m not sure if the demand is sufficient for daily service,” Karker said Wednesday.
He said there is a core population that includes the elderly who do not drive and low-income residents who don’t own cars that would be served by such public transportation. Coastal Trans provides transportation mainly to MaineCare eligible people for nonemergency medical trips such as dialysis treatments or doctor visits.
There was a three-year experiment starting back in 1995 called the Rockland Shuttle that mainly served elderly housing complexes and ran routes that included the Hannaford supermarket and Penobscot Bay Medical Center. The shuttle consisted of a 10-passenger minivan.
Karker said he believes that shuttle did not succeed because of the route.
He said one change that has occurred since the mid-1990s is the commercial growth along Route 1 in Knox County.
He said any new public transportation system would likely run from the planned super Walmart in Thomaston to downtown Camden.
Karker said Crikelair will be issuing a report to the recently formed informal group based on his assessment of Tuesday’s meeting. The group will then meet again and determine the next steps.
The participants in Tuesday’s meeting had a wide range of views concerning the need for public transportation. The group formed last fall following a meeting of the economic development committees of Rockland, Camden, Thomaston and Rockport. Rockland Community Development Director Audrey Lovering said a priority of that group was to look at the feasibility of regional public transportation. The economic development representatives then contacted some nonprofit organizations such as Coastal Trans and Spectrum Generations and together they formed the new group to look at the transportation issue.
“People want to use their cars. It’s so ingrained that it’s almost alien to ride a bus,” state Rep. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland said. Mazurek serves on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee as the Democratic leader of the panel.
Camden Select Board member Donald White said except for a few times a year, there is sufficient parking in Camden. He questioned whether a free transportation service would work.
Rockport Town Planner Tom Ford said most people in Maine want to be able to park within view of their destination and that this can be achieved in the local area. He said it would be difficult to convince healthy people with their own cars to use public transportation.
George Therrien of Rockland said he sees a lot of people using taxis but that the cost is an economic challenge for people with low incomes.
Ann Matlack of St. George said a lot of people on the peninsula would like to have public transportation available.
Suzanne White of Spectrum Generations, which serves an elderly population, said that for a local bus service to be successful it would need to run on a daily basis and have a constant route.
Lovering, the Rockland community development director, said she knows one need is for transportation within Rockland for workers who do not have vehicles.
“There are people who are struggling because they either lost their license or their cars have broken down,” she said.
Camden Development Director Brian Hodges said he sees an opportunity for a public transportation system to work for Camden. He noted that the major employers such as Wayfarer, Quarry Hill and IntriCon Tibbetts are located close to the downtown.
Crikelair said one option could be to build more park and ride lots where people who work at the same businesses can share rides.
“We can’t bus our way out of the problem alone,” the consultant said, referring to the need for transportation for some elderly and low-income residents.