July 19, 2018
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Bangor committee favors fund to save Odlin Road bus — for now

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — City officials are considering a fund to help sustain an Odlin Road bus route, at least for the next couple months.

The Community Connector’s Odlin Road route is slated to shut down Aug. 19.

Community Connector targeted the route for elimination after the city asked the bus service to cut $20,000 from its budget. During spring budget talks, the city faced a significant loss of state funding and increasing state and federal mandates. The council told the city to issue across-the-board cuts to departments, eliminate jobs, and it still had to increase taxes.

The Odlin Road route was the least traveled, with about 17,000 riders per year, but it was also the newest, having started in April 2012.

The city’s Government Operations Committee on Monday night recommended that the city start an account, seeking donations from private businesses or residents who want to see the route stay in operation.

Councilor Joe Baldacci has proposed that the city come up with $4,000 to fund the route through Nov. 1. He said he would be willing to forgo his council salary for the year — about $2,000 — to keep the route going until the city and Community Connector can come up with a more permanent solution.

Community Connector faces a big unknown that could dig even deeper into its bottom line, according to Assistant City Manager Bob Farrar. The state recently changed how it funds some Mainers’ public transportation costs under Medicare and Medicaid. That change could mean a $100,000-$150,000 loss in expected revenue this year for Community Connector, which would result in more significant cuts and changes for the bus service provider.

“I’m afraid we’re going to put everything in jeopardy” if we don’t look at finances closely and seriously consider cuts, council chairman Nelson Durgin said during the meeting.

Bangor’s Discovery House, an outpatient center for people recovering from addiction, located along the Odlin Road route, also has offered up to $2,000 to maintain the route. Brent Miller, director of the center, said many of his clients rely on that bus route to get to their treatments on a daily basis.

The account will be created if it receives the go-ahead from the full council during its Aug. 12 meeting.

Several community members and city councilors have said they want the city to find a way to keep the route going, at least for the time being, until the city gets a better idea of the future of the bus service. A Bar Harbor firm is in the midst of a study exploring whether the city’s bus hub should be altered or moved out of Pickering Square downtown.

Councilor Patricia Blanchette argued that the Odlin Road route shouldn’t be shut down before it’s had a chance to prove itself and that some other routes might be reduced or combined to help maintain this route, which has only seven trips per day. Other routes have buses that pass every 30 minutes throughout the day.

Councilor James Gallant suggested that a small fare hike would increase revenue to the point where Community Connector would easily be able to retain the route. Community Connector saw a little more than 1 million riders last year, which means a 5-cent fare increase could bring in another $50,000, he said.

In the meantime, city staff said, they will continue to keep an eye on potential public transportation funding changes and what effects those might have on Community Connector.

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