Let’s face it, Maine is a big rural state (larger than the five remaining New England states taken together), where lowering greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles has been and will be a continuing challenge. CLF’s Maine office is actively engaged in three different projects with a wide range of partners who are determined to find practical solutions while improving the quality and sustainability of transportation services.
For more than two decades, as the Portland area has grown and expanded, there has been talk of creating a transit district in southern Maine that could improve and expand customer service across the diversity of travel modes, including fixed-route and on-demand bus services, ferries, and passenger rail. CLF has a seat on the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System transit committee, and Public Policy Advisor Malcolm Burson is playing a key role in facilitating conversations among public officials and transit operations managers.
In February, the first draft of a Transit Consolidation Feasibility Study was presented by outside consultants. A number of options are on the table, awaiting cost-benefit analysis, but it’s clear that a strong preference exists for a merger of three fixed-route providers. This would be the first step toward the eventual inclusion of other providers in a district that could serve approximately 40% of Maine’s population.
Senior Attorney Greg Cunningham, meanwhile, has led the effort to develop a pilot project designed to expand awareness and availability of electric vehicles (EVs), including their related charging infrastructure in Maine. CLF developed a straw proposal for a Greater Portland–based pilot that will provide grants for EVs and charging stations, look to create partnerships with businesses and municipalities to further EV technology use and awareness, and to collect data related to EV usage. The proposal was largely adopted by a working group comprised of EV advocates and representatives from Central Maine Power and was approved by the Public Utilities Commission. The pilot was initiated in March. “EVs have the potential to drastically reduce air pollution, including significant carbon emissions, from the transportation sector,” said Cunningham. “We hope that this pilot puts more EVs on the road and helps to demonstrate to Mainers just how convenient and cost effective this technology has become.”
Maine has been a great success story for the expansion of passenger rail in northern New England. The Downeaster Boston–Portland service has exceeded its growth expectations every year and recently expanded service to now serve Freeport (think L.L. Bean) and Brunswick, home of Bowdoin College. Once again, ridership exceeded projections from the first day of service, with greater numbers of passengers who were clearly using this as a commuter option. Now, the Maine Department of Transportation has convened a Passenger Rail Advisory Council to look at the opportunities and challenges for expanding passenger rail service in Maine. Executive Vice President and CLF Maine Director Sean Mahoney has been asked to serve on the Council as the representative from the public-interest sector. According to Sean, “the opportunity to increase transportation alternatives for Mainers and decrease dependence on cars has significant upside for Maine’s economy and environment, and I look forward to working with other members of the Council to capitalize on that opportunity.”