BANGOR, Maine — Suzanne Kelly has given up her car for the month of November and is riding the bus.
Kelly, 67, of Bangor is taking the Community Connector to work, the YMCA, the dentist and the grocery store not out of necessity but as an act of faith.
A member of the Unitarian Universalist Church on Park Street for 30 years, Kelly heads the congregation’s Social Justice Committee. She is part of a coalition of Bangor-area churches working to raise awareness about the challenges faced by people living in poverty.
“[As Unitarian Universalists], the second principle which guides our actions is ‘justice, equity and compassion in human relations,’” Kelly said in October when it was announced that November would be Ride the Bus! Month. “In line with this principle, we want to be a strong, active voice in helping to create a culture where all people have access to affordable, reliable public transportation.”
The Bangor City Council supported the effort by issuing a proclamation declaring November as Ride the Bus! Month. Kelly and others wear and pass out stickers to other riders to help spread the word.
The impetus for the campaign started three years ago, when Brewer-based Food AND Medicine began serving as the host organization for Faith Linking in Action, a coalition of Bangor-area churches committed to addressing the reasons families fall into poverty and the difficulties they face in trying to better their lives.
After interviewing people, the group concluded the major issues they wanted to tackle were transportation, jobs and child care, according to organizer Martin Chartrand. The transportation group is the first to implement a campaign to raise awareness about an issue.
Chartrand said the goal of the bus campaign is to increase ridership because once ridership goes up, the hours the buses run could be extended.
The group’s initiative included finding veteran riders to act as bus ambassadors to those unaccustomed to schedules, routes and transfers.
Bus Ambassador Theodore “Ted” Rippy, 81, of Bangor could not afford to buy a new car when his “died” a few years ago. He began riding the Community Connector out of necessity to get to his job as a direct care worker.
“Now, I use the bus for shopping, chores, going to the doctor, everything you can think of,” he said last week. “It’s less expensive than maintaining a car and very convenient.”
Because Rippy and Kelly are over the age of 65, they may ride the bus for 75 cents, half the regular $1.50 fare. Because they use the bus so often, both buy monthly passes for $45.
The one place Rippy is unable to go on the bus is to Sunday services at Hammond Street Congregational Church. He must take a taxi because the Community Connector does not operate on Sundays.
It also does not operate at night, except between the University of Maine campus and downtown Orono, which is subsidized by the university. The last bus leaves the Community Connector hub in Pickering Square at 5:45 p.m. on weekdays. That makes it difficult for people whose work hours extend past 5 p.m. and rely on the bus as their most economical form of transportation, according Faith Linking in Action Organizer Martin Chartrand.
Andrew Husson of Hampden got involved in the organization because of the importance of the Community Connector to his family’s livelihood: “My family are amongst the many that the ending of the Saturday Hampden bus service has affected,” he said in October. “My fiancee, Amanda, our three children and myself barely scraped by as it was. Now Amanda has lost work hours because she did not have reliable transportation. We think it is especially important that those who make decisions on policy and funding for the Community Connector see what it’s like to rely on the bus.”
Hampden town councilors voted 4-3 to eliminate Saturday bus runs in town in August, according to a previously published report. It cost about $16,000 a year to provide.
Kelly, who grew up in New York City and used the bus and subway system daily, said that she intends to keep riding the bus as often as she can after the awareness campaign ends Nov. 30. She has ridden in a car with her husband to go visit family in Lincoln but has not driven since late October.
“It does take planning to do things like get to appointments, but I like it,” she said.
Other houses of worship participating in Faith Linking in Action include: All Souls Congregational Church, Congregation Beth Israel, First Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church, Hammond Street Congregational Church, all of Bangor and St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church of Brewer.
For more information on “Ride the Bus! Month,” visit www.foodandmedicine.org/faith-linking-in-action/transportation. For information about the bus ambassador program, call Martin Chartrand at 989-5850.