Expanding Transit Options in a Rural State: An Update From Maine

Malcolm Burson

 

Transportation options in nothern tier states like Maine are a critical part of sustainable communities and a low-impact ecncomy. Photo credit: Lawrence Whittemore @ flickr

Let’s face it: population density is a critical factor in any decision to provide transit services. In CLF’s “northern tier” states, where dense populations are limited to a few metropolitan areas, transportation options like bus services  have been slow to develop, leaving people to drive. In asking for directions from one place to another, the response most often is: “You’re on your own.”

In Maine, for example, Portland and surrounding towns and cities are served by a number of independent municipal fixed-route bus systems, an inter-city commuter bus linking Portland with a few cities in southern Maine, and an outlying “on demand” provider. But there is no regular service between Portland and Maine’s second-largest metro area, Lewiston-Auburn, about 40 miles away. Maine’s L/A has a growing immigrant population and plenty of affordable housing, but greater Portland, where housing is expensive, is the locus of most employment expansion.

CLF Maine has been working with the elected leaders of these areas to promote new ways for commuters on this corridor to avoid single-occupancy vehicle commuting, and provide greater connectivity to Portland’s air, bus, and train transportation hub. Recently, at the urging of Auburn’s mayor, Jonathan Labonte and Portland’s mayor Mike Brennan, Portland’s city council voted to explore this option, as reported here.

It’s an encouraging step in the right direction and validates the work of CLF and its partners to create a unified transit authority for the entire southern Maine region. This would promote better customer service and alignment among providers as disparate as a ferry service, Amtrak, and local bus lines, and provide the potential for common investment and bonding authority.

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