Saturday Bus Service

Bike on Bus

An Open Letter to the Hampden Town Council

[The council will vote Monday June 15 at 7 p.m. in the Hampden Municipal Building, 106 Western Avenue, on discontinuing Saturday bus service between Hampden and Bangor.]

Dear Councilors;

I’m dismayed that you’re considering cutting Saturday bus service again, less than a year after voting to keep it. The Community Connector is an important resource for the people of Hampden and neighboring communities.

I live in Bangor, but I use the bus to do business in Hampden, often on Saturdays. I keep a boat at Hamlin’s Marina, and I use the bus to get to the hardware store, the grocery store, and the Dunkin’ Donuts, all Hampden businesses that lie on the bus route.

By limiting the bus service to weekdays only, you are harming many people who rely (or would like to be able to rely) on this essential service. It will be particularly hard for those who can’t afford a car. These are the people who can least afford the extra money for a taxi to a low-paying job. Less bus service also harms those who can’t drive for physical reasons: sight impairment, disabilities, old age. Finally, there are a growing number of people who, like me, have begun to question the accepted wisdom that everybody needs a car.

Some have cited the route’s low ridership as reason to discontinue Saturday service. But that is circular thinking. I firmly believe that more people would use the bus if it became attractive to use. You can’t offer minimal service and then complain that it is getting minimal use.

Others have cited the price tag: $28,000 to run the Saturday service annually. But I wonder how much the city of Hampden has invested in infrastructure for cars over the past year. Public transportation is also an investment. I chose the boatyard in Hampden in part because it is convenient to get to by bus. All the money I have spent there, and at other nearby business, can be considered a return on the town’s investment in the bus system. Not everybody does business by car. The town should not make it more difficult to choose alternatives.

Bus passengers are an under-represented constituency. Even the timing and location of your Monday meeting discourages their participation. The bus stops running an hour and half before the meeting begins, and your municipal building is on the outskirts of town, difficult to access by foot or bicycle.

We are so used to the favoritism for cars that many people don’t perceive things like bus service cuts as disenfranchisement. Any transportation planning for the future must include a robust public transportation system. It’s only fair. As I wrote earlier this year on my blog:

The public perception of public transportation as wasteful subsidy is as old as it is inaccurate. In her landmark 1997 book Asphalt Nation, the late Jane Holtz Kay points out that your car is more subsidized than the bus. Half the money to support our addiction to cars comes from general taxes, whether you own a car or not. We all pay for free parking, law enforcement associated with the car, health care for accident victims, and the myriad environmental costs wrought by the car. So who is subsidizing whom?

The meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday, June 15, at the Hampden Municipal Building. The building is near the intersection of routes 202 and 9, diagonally across from the Hannaford. I plan to arrive early by bus; I hope I can get a ride home.

For those who cannot attend, here are the names and e-mail addresses of the members of the Hampden City Council, to whom I have sent copies of this letter.

Stephen L. Wilde

Dennis R. Marble

Terry McAvoy  

David. I. Ryder, Mayor

Carol S. Duprey

William Shakespeare, deputy mayor

Gregory j. Sirois


Hank Garfield

About Hank Garfield

Hank's writing has appeared in San Diego Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Downeast, Bangor Metro, and elsewhere. He is the author of five published novels, and is now seeking a publisher for his recently-completed novel, A Sprauling Family Saga.