BANGOR, Maine — Local residents and City Councilors defended a Community Connector Bangor bus route that’s slated for elimination during a news conference and public meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Community Connector targeted the Odlin Road route for elimination after the city asked it 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.
“For myself and many other riders, the Community Connector is the only affordable way to get to work and meet our basic needs,” said Ted Rippy, a board member of Food AND Medicine and regular bus rider. “This is why public transit is a critical part of a community. The Odlin Road route in particular serves many low-wage workers who are hit the hardest by our struggling economy.”
The route started in April 2012 after a five-year petition campaign by residents in the area. It is also one of the lesser used Community Connector routes, but was gaining popularity, according to Bill Wheeler, a driver of the route. The route is scheduled to shut down Aug. 19.
Bus Superintendent Laurie Linscott said Wednesday that the route was targeted more because it fit the fiscal cut the city asked for than for its low ridership compared with other routes.
“This whole thing is about the money,” Linscott said. “None of us want this route to be eliminated.”
Food AND Medicine, a Brewer-based nonprofit advocacy group that works under the premise that no one should have to choose between food, medicine and other necessities, organized Wednesday’s press conference. In order to eliminate a route, which constitutes a major change in service, the federal government requires a public hearing as part of the process.
Brent Miller, director of Bangor’s Discovery House, an outpatient center for people recovering from addiction that is located along the Odlin Road route, said many Discovery House clients rely on the Community Connector route to get to their treatments. Many can’t afford taxis and aren’t able to walk the distance, he said.
Miller said Discovery House would be willing to donate $2,000 to the city to help fund the route this year and hoped other businesses along the Odlin Road route would be willing to do the same.
Councilors Patricia Blanchette and Charlie Longo attended the hearing and each said they would like the route to be reinstated. Longo said he was concerned that area residents wouldn’t be able to afford to take the taxi to get groceries or get to medical appointments.
Those going to Discovery House also would have their added travel costs covered by MaineCare, which would cost the state money and not help in resolving budget issues.
Blanchette shared that concern and said it might be in the state’s best interest to help fund the Odlin Road route to prevent a significant long-term increase in its MaineCare transportation reimbursement payouts.
She said she would like to find a way to fund the route for the rest of the year and go to the Legislature when it reconvenes to ask for funding to continue it.
“This is of vital importance to [people recovering at Discovery House],” said Ed Rhodes, who works security for Discovery House. “We want to work with them, we want them to win, and they need this route.”