Why People Don't Take The Bus.
The obvious answer is the quicker, more convenient automobile.
But there are other reasons.
by John Alphonse
Inadequate routes and lack of frequent service were the key reasons, given by Greater Portland residents interviewed, for not using the tax-funded METRO bus service. And these inadequacies are the result of a government system that underfunds public transportation and overfeeds automobile-related projects.
"It doesn't go where I want to go, or it doesn't go when I need it to," says Congress Street resident Michael Young, who does not own a car. Even though a bus stop is virtually outside his front door, he says he usually ends up calling a cab to ensure on-time arrival for job interviews. "I just can't take the chance," he says. "If the bus is late, I'm late for the interview. And I'm probably not getting that job."
The METRO schedule shows service running on the half-hour to most stops, and inevitable delays create a tight schedule for drivers, and for passengers whose next bus ride opportunity is usually over 30 minutes away.
The new METRO signs look nice; posting route schedules would be helpful.
"Even sometimes when I'm early according to the schedule, I'm still late, because if the bus is earlier it won't wait!" says an exasperated Jen Lin, who used to ride the North Deering / Washington Avenue bus to the Northport area.
Lin also points out the problems of a second-shift bus commuter in Portland; rides only once an hour after 6 p.m. and a last run of 9:45 p.m. or earlier on many routes leaves a typical 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. second-shifter stranded.
And even if you catch the last run on the North Deering bus, you won't be able to return to most of Washington Avenue: the last bus takes a different route Intown via Stevens Avenue and Congress Street, dropping its final passengers downtown on Elm Street.
Another nighttime opportunity missed to service customers is in the hundreds who flock nightly to the Old Port area for entertainment, but who can't take a bus to or from the area after 9:30 p.m. on most routes, especially more Intown ones. Perhaps if more compact Old Port shuttle buses were employed and it was made convenient to use public transportation at night, incidents of drunken driving could be reduced as well.
"We know that increasing (bus scheduling) frequency is the number one way to increase ridership," says METRO's general manager, Sarah deDoes, citing the results of studies in European cities. However, more frequent service means more buses, more fuel and more drivers are needed. And money must be allocated to fund these improvements.
Help May Be On The Way
What it takes for more federal, state and local tax money to be invested in improving the bus system is enough citizens saying they want it. "Public transportation needs public support," acknowledges deDoes. Whether or not we as individuals need the service, almost "everyone knows someone... who needs public transit," she feels. And with the current high levels of air pollution being produced daily by automobiles, in a sense we all need improved public transportation.
As an example of the positive impact more public transportation can have on the environment, deDoes mentions METRO's new "Zip" commuter Park 'n Ride shuttle, which she says will reduce the amount of air pollution in the city by 20 tons per year, based on current ridership. This figure was arrived at by using the national average of pollutants per vehicle times the number of participating monthly pass holders, which is currently 94.
"Our goal was 100 monthly pass sales by the end of our first year, and we still have two months to go," says deDoes.
Also necessary is a better way for local and state governments to tap funding resources. Oftentimes, considerable sums of federal money go unused for lack of local commitment to even a twenty-percent share.
Presently, after METRO's approximately $300,000 in federal assistance and $50,000 in state funds are depleted, "the remaining subsidy needed is shared between Portland and Westbrook," the cities served by METRO, says deDoes. Any "extra" money that could be used to match the federal funds is devoured by these operating costs.
However, this may be changing. A bill is presently in state legislature to form a statewide "Maine Mobility Fund Task Force." This task force of 18 members from government, transportation and public sectors would be "established to find a way to fully realize the promise of ISTEA (the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) and the State's Sensible Transportation Policy Act for a new emphasis on public transportation . . .", according to the bill presented by Sen. William O'Gara , D - Cumberland, co-chairman of the state's Transportation Committee.
In other words, this task force will study ways to obtain more funding for public transportation projects.
Assuming that this task force is formed, which looks favorable,"when (their) report goes back to the legislature, we'll need a lot of public support for their funding source recommendations," says deDoes.
Click this image for a photo demonstration of how to use METRO's Bike-Rack-For-Buses.
Now's The Time For Your Input
Currently, METRO is in the midst of a separate study to evaluate all of its present routes. The study is being conducted by transportation planners at the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG), along with private consultants Wilbur Smith Associates.
Route changes will be made based on the study and the input of interested citizens. "It's an opportune time for suggested changes," deDoes notes. (See links below.)
Letters written by individuals explaining their specific public transportation needs will be considered in the present evaluation, and later presented to the METRO board for consideration.
What this study cannot do is recommend spending more money. Until further funding is secured through the task force, the METRO Board of Directors "has initiated that (changes) be done with no additional tax money," says deDoes.
The Board is made up of eight members appointed by the Portland and Westbrook city councils.
Why they're not taking the bus:
Jack, 34, student: "You waste a lot of time with the bus." Ed, 24, cafe worker & student: "The bus isn't around much." Rob, 30, law clerk: "There should be more covered shelters." Adam, 36, laborer: "The times and areas it goes don't work for me."
Changes May Improve Ridership
Here are some reality x editors' suggestions for improving Greater Portland's public transportation, and below them are links to where you can have your input heard!
Supplement the current routes with nonstop, slightly surcharged trips by mini-bus.
Alternative-fuel-burning mini-buses during off-peak hours, double runs at peak.
Make a schedule that can be kept, even if it means fewer stops.
Posting the route's schedule at the stop grabs potential riders' attention.
METRO's soonest changes will take place without more money being spent! Please keep this in mind when submitting your ideas for improvement to them at this time.
Tax dollars are spent on OUR bus system. Make it work for you by communicating your needs to the right people in the right manner. Live it... change it. Be a part of the solution!
Council of Governments
Sen. William O'Gara
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