ROCKLAND, Maine — A public transit system that would run hourly on weekdays from Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport to Walmart in Thomaston is the best option to start, according to a national consultant.
Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates Inc., a firm based in San Francisco with an office in Boston, presented its findings Tuesday to the Midcoast Transit Committee. The recommendation covers a smaller geographic area than had been discussed in earlier meetings. Four options were provided in the final report but the consultant found that the limited one was the most feasible.
The recommended system would operate from 6 a.m. through 6 p.m. on weekdays and make stops at PBMC, Shaw’s Supermarket, University of Maine in Rockland, Hannaford Supermarket, Fieldcrest Apartments, Bartlett Woods, Oceanside High School East, the Maine State Ferry Terminal, Rockland Public Library, the Methodist Conference Home, the Stella Maris House and Walmart. All but PBMC and Walmart are in Rockland.
The consultant recommends that the city of Rockland be the project manager but that Coastal Trans, a private, nonprofit company based in Rockland, operate the transit service.
The estimated first-year cost is $685,000. The annual operating cost in subsequent years would be $400,000. The start-up expenses include the purchase of two 16-passenger vehicles, bus stop shelters and signs.
The bulk of the money to pay for the transit service would most likely need to come from federal grants, according to the report. Other sources of revenue would include passenger fares, advertising income and contributions from state, county and municipal governments.
The midcoast area should ensure municipalities and institutions agree to funding the service for a set period of time, such as three to five years, so that the service is sustainable and has an opportunity to succeed over the long term, according to the consultant.
The consultant pointed out that many small urban and rural transit systems do not charge fares in order to generate greater traffic. He said contributions can be sought from major employers in the region and their workers would then be able to ride for free. He said businesses and organizations where bus stops are located, such as outside supermarkets or university offices, could be solicited for contributions to support the service.
The projection by the consultant is that the service will begin with 160 passengers per day. He recommended that the service use a vehicle that is able to carry 16 people at a time, is easily accessible for the elderly and has a bicycle rack.
“There is a clear desire for transit service in the midcoast region; this sentiment was strong
throughout the planning effort. The initial service is designed to be simple and convenient to use, while serving the areas of greatest identified need,” the report concludes.
There is a lot of work left to do, Sue Moreau of the Maine Department of Transportation said on Wednesday. She said that the earliest a system in Rockland could start would be the end of 2015 and more likely 2016.
Don White of Camden, the chairman of the Midcoast Transit Committee, said Wednesday that the committee will meet in the next couple of weeks and discuss the report, the four options offered by the consultants and the next steps. He said the committee also will discuss expanding its membership to have more interested parties and stakeholders.
The other three options offered by the consultant call for varying degrees of service extending to Camden, including making the operation seasonal only.
“An option that will be addressed is making a next step an implementation phase which will involve digesting the Nelson/Nygaard report and working with MaineDOT and another transit source to create an implementation plan and how to fund and market the future transit service for the midcoast,” White said.
Moreau said it was important for the committee to expand to include businesses and organizations that would be served by the bus. The Nelson/Nygaard report also points out that it is important for the committee to find someone to champion the transit project and to work to gain public support.
Rockland, Thomaston, Rockport and Camden helped pay for the study. The consultant found that 75 percent of the likely riders would be along the Pen Bay to Walmart stretch and that is why he did not recommend extending the route to Camden to start.
The transit committee has been working for more than two years on determining the feasibility of this service.
The full report by Nelson/Nygaard is available online at: http://www.midcoastplanning.org/PDFs/MTS-FinalReport.pdf.