ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Summer is the busiest season for Maine’s only national park, and this summer has turned out to be the busiest ever for the 14-year-old Island Explorer bus system.
The seasonal bus system, which does not charge for rides and uses propane for fuel, has carried a total of more than 4 million people since it began operations on Mount Desert Island in 1999. This summer, between June 23 and the end of August, Island Explorer buses had 365,247 riders — more than it has had during the same time period in any other year, according to Acadia Deputy Superintendent Len Bobinchock.
Bobinchock released the figures Monday afternoon to Acadia’s citizen advisory commission, which meets three times a year. The daily average for this summer was 5,218 riders, with a peak of 8,404 on Aug. 7, Bobinchock added.
The bus system’s previous record summer was in 2008, when it carried approximately 348,000 riders between June 23, which is the system’s annual start date, and the end of August.
“That’s the year gasoline was $4 a gallon,” Bobinchock said.
This year’s figure represents a five percent increase over 2008 ridership for the same period and an 11 percent increase over comparable figures for 2011, Bobinchock said.
The Island Explorer’s “bicycle express,” which specifically transports bicyclists between the Village Green in downtown Bar Harbor and the carriage paths at Eagle Lake, carried 17,218 riders this summer, which represents an 11 percent increase over the 15,500 riders it carried last summer, Bobinchock said.
Without providing ridership totals for other routes, the deputy superintendent said the number of passengers on the system’s Park Loop Road route went up 16 percent while those for the Schoodic and Southwest Harbor routes each increased 13 percent from 2011.
“All of the Island Explorer routes showed an increase,” he said. “It was a very good summer for the Island Explorer.”
In other news, park officials told the commission that they feel safety has been improved along the Park Loop Road by the Jordan Pond House restaurant since they banned parking along one side of the road this year. Michael Daley of Acadia Corp., which operates the restaurant, told the commission that the restaurant’s numbers have been down this year as a result of the parking restrictions, but that safety along the stretch of road “clearly was far superior.”
Both he and Bobinchock said that they hope better promotion next year of an express bus service between the Jordan Pond House and the park’s visitors center in Hulls Cove will boost the restaurant’s business in 2013.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.