September 22, 2019
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Public transit returns to a midcoast Maine city

Lauren Abbate | BDN
Lauren Abbate | BDN
Main Street in Rockland.

ROCKLAND, Maine ― For Steffanie Pyle, of Waldo Community Action Partners, having public transportation in a community isn’t just providing an essential service, it’s helping to further build that community.

“Transportation in any form is the way that people socially and economically participate in their communities. Those things aren’t possible if people can’t get where they need or want to go,” Pyle said. “And with public transportation, it’s a way to build community, because you’re riding with your community.”

For the last two years, Rockland has been without public transportation following the shutdown of Coast Trans. But since May, Mid-Coast Public Transportation ― a part of Waldo Community Action Partners ― has been offering a new bus service that Pyle is hoping not only meets the needs of those who are dependent on public transportation, but the community as a whole.

The service, called DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle), runs Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Two buses run the same route, which extends from Wal-Mart in Thomaston to Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, including 10 stops in all.

For decades, Mid-Coast Public Transportation has been offering public transportation in Waldo County, but Pyle said that service was limited to a few days a week and was more of a shopper route.

In Knox County, Coastal Trans provided only demand-responsive service for people needing to get around, meaning riders needed to call ahead to reserve a trip instead of a set route, according to a 2014 transit study of the Thomaston-to-Camden corridor.

In launching DASH in Rockland, Mid-Coast Public Transportation wanted to meet the needs of those who relied on public transportation, but also offer a wider range of fixed stops that would service a broader swath of the community.

“When [public transportation] is built only to service [the transit dependent], it really narrows the focus on where and when people need to go. It’s another system that sets those people off as ‘other’ and really does a disservice to the whole community,” Pyle said. “Our goal is to take that need and broaden it into a service that would be really worthwhile to the whole community.”

The basis for DASH is rooted in the 2014 transit study commissioned in part by the Maine Department of Transportation. The study concluded that there was an interest in Rockland, and in greater Knox County, to explore “a more comprehensive approach to public transportation.”

While Coastal Trans was still operating at the time the study was done, 90 percent of residents who participated in the study said the public transportation needed to be expanded in the area.

By building a service that more people can find as a useful alternative to driving themselves, Pyle said, the service will be more successful. “Public transit works because you have more people on it,” she said.

Mary Ann Hughes of the Maine Department of Transportation said DASH “is a model for community-based planning for transit.”

After having the long-established shopper service in Belfast, Mid-Coast Public Transportation reconfigured the service this summer to model what’s being offered in Rockland, running five days a week instead of three, with a fixed route.

So far, Pyle said they are happy with the ridership of DASH in Rockland. In June, the service provided 236 rides, and in July, it provided 402 rides. While these numbers might seem small, Pyle said it’s good progress to start.

Gordon Page, executive director of Rockland Main Street Inc., said he sees the service as a way to further grow Rockland’s bustling downtown.

“Public transportation is a huge draw to bring more and more people into the downtown district,” Page said.

The fare structure for DASH is $2 for a one-way trip, $5 for a day pass, a $20 for a 12-ride card or $50 for a monthly pass.

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