How would it feel if your access to transportation were threatened? If you lost your means of transportation, would you lose your job? Your medical care? Your social life?
For thousands of people in our community, the Community Connector bus system provides that vital means to get around. Some ride the bus by choice, while others must, due to economics or disabilities.
For over eight years, the very core of the Community Connector, its hub, has been under siege. A small, powerful and very persistent group of people has been advocating to shrink the hub, or to move it entirely from its current location in Pickering Square in downtown Bangor.
The trouble has been where to move it without significantly harming the bus system. Because if a move results in significant harm to a service that receives federal funding, and it harms the people who rely on that service (think elderly, disabled and low-income people), then it may run afoul of federal law, specifically Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This was the clear and repeated concern voiced by Stantec, the company hired to complete Bangor’s most recent transit study which, in part, was commissioned to revisit this relentless effort to move the hub. And what would Stantec know? Stantec has led transit work in places ranging from Fredericton, New Brunswick, to Los Angeles to Nashua, New Hampshire. Its website also promotes its work on the Keystone Pipeline — it is not a pushover company as some have maintained.
Over the past eight years, the city has spent $170,000 in taxpayer money commissioning outside consultants to do major studies on moving the bus hub, while also spending countless city staff hours in this seemingly endless search for other potential locations for a hub (or mini-hubs). The City Council has hosted numerous discussions and public hearings on the question of the hub in Pickering Square, and all this time, the critical needs of the system have been put in limbo, and significant improvements (such as moving to a designated stops system and getting important new technologies such as GPS bus tracking) have been postponed.
Through it all, the Community Connector staff, in particular Superintendent Laurie Linscott, has done a tremendous job in writing and winning numerous federal grants. Thanks largely to her efforts, we have several brand-new buses in our fleet and have won a $1.29 million federal grant to build a new bus hub.
Food AND Medicine, a local organization where I work, focuses on supporting people in gaining access to basic needs such as food, medicine and transportation. We have heard the concerns of people who rely on the bus. Six years ago, we formed Transportation for All, a group of bus riders and supporters who work together to advocate for a better bus system. The greatest demand from riders, by far, has been increased hours.
The first, most important step, however, is approving the city staff-recommended plan for the new hub and green space in Pickering Square. The city’s proposal shows a nice brick building, with a heated waiting room, restrooms and staffed Community Connector presence — very important for helping people feel comfortable in a public space. The design significantly increases green space from 9,000 square feet to 15,000, and opens up unobstructed pedestrian walkways. It will create a multiuse Pickering Square that will benefit the whole community — bus riders, shoppers, seniors and children.
Some are saying the city of Bangor is rushing the process and think we need to slow down and develop Pickering Square as a green space. Three years ago some of these same people advocated for turning Pickering Square into a parking lot!
Now we have the chance to move ahead. Please come at 7:30 p.m. on Monday to Bangor City Hall to support finally resolving this debate, and to encourage the Bangor City Council to vote to keep the bus hub in Pickering Square and develop the space as a wonderful gathering place for everyone.
Jack McKay of Bangor is the Director of Food AND Medicine a local nonprofit whose mission is to support people’s access to basic needs.