Earlier this week, I took my first bus ride of the season from Bangor to Rockland and back. In the summer I ride this route a lot, because Rockland Harbor is where I moor a small sailboat.
The bus is uber-convenient, perhaps by coincidence as much as design. At any rate, it suits my purposes perfectly. On a weekday morning, I can take a Community Connector bus from near my house to the Concord Coach station on Union Street. The coastal bus leaves promptly at seven and pulls into the Rockland ferry landing before nine. From there it’s a short walk to Main Street and a smashing breakfast at the Rockland Café, and another short walk to Hamilton Marine, the public landing, and the harbormaster’s office.
The public landing and adjacent park host the big events of the summer: the North Atlantic Blues Festival, the various boat shows, the annual Maine Lobster Festival. From here, it’s a short uphill walk to the train station, and the end of the line for Maine’s only passenger train north of Brunswick.
In the off-season, Concord Coach runs one bus a day each way up and down the swath of coast between Portland and Bangor. It stops in Searsport, Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Waldoboro, Damariscotta, Wiscasset, Bath, Brunswick, and Freeport. I can spend the day in Rockland, get on the return bus at 4:15 pm, and be back in Bangor at six.
Between Memorial and Columbus days, a second bus leaves Bangor at eleven, and gets to Rockland at one. A late bus leaves Rockland at 9:30 pm, and pulls into Bangor just before midnight. You can take either morning bus, spend a day in Rockland, go sailing, have dinner, and take the late bus home. You can have a drink with dinner and not worry about driving.
There are a few glitches. I can’t take a Community Connector bus home from Union Street at six because the two bus schedules don’t overlap on that end. And they don’t overlap on Saturday morning, when the first Community Connector bus leaves downtown at 7:15, after the Concord bus has already left.
Still, I’m fortunate and thankful that a convenient way to travel between Bangor and Rockland exists at all. It doesn’t work so well in the reverse direction. If I lived in Rockland and had to spend a day in Bangor, I couldn’t do it by bus without staying over night.
I could go to Portland, though – just as I can from Bangor. Another bus leaves the Concord Coach station at seven every morning, an express that touches at Augusta and stops in Portland on the way to Boston and the world.
This bus is usually more than two-thirds full. I’ve used it many times. The coastal bus might have two or three passengers. The most I’ve ever seen get on in Bangor is seven. On some mornings, I’ve been the only one.
The bread-and-butter of the route is the section between Rockland and Portland, particularly serving the Bath-Brunswick area and Bowdoin College. When I get off in Rockland (five minutes after the first ferry departs for Vinalhaven – another missed opportunity), there’s usually a crowd waiting to get on.
If public transportation in these parts of Maine is to proliferate, supporters – even those who own cars – must demonstrate that it will be used. An opportunity to do this exists around the many summer events on the coast. Bangor-area residents attend the blues festival, for example, but how many do it by bus? It’s much more convenient than driving. You don’t have to navigate tourist traffic on Route One. You don’t have to find a parking space. You don’t have to buy gas. You can leave early or stay late. A round-trip ticket to Rockland is only $34; it’s less to Belfast or Camden, which hold numerous summer events, too.
But people coming to summer events in Bangor have little choice but to drive. I hope that this will someday change, as more people discover the convenience and cost savings of public transportation.
If you haven’t taken the Concord Coach for a day on the coast, or to Portland for a Sea Dogs baseball game, I recommend it. The trip is comfortable, convenient, and cheap. You can read, write, use your computer, or doze if you want – none of which you can do behind the wheel. And you’ll be removing one car from the traffic mix, making yours and everyone else’s day just a little bit easier.