As the Concord Coach Bus approaches Rockland, I can look out my window and see the Vinalhaven ferry pulling away from the dock. In another few minutes, the bus will pull up at the ferry terminal, which is also the bus station. The bus, which left Bangor at 7 a.m., arrives in Rockland at 8:55. The ferry departs ten minutes earlier.
Were Vinalhaven my destination on this late summer morning, I would have to wait until 10:30 to take the next ferry. Inconvenient, but not much – the Rockland Café, which serves the best breakfasts on the coast, is just up the street.
And I’m aware that few people travel between Bangor and Vinalhaven on a schedule. The bus that takes me from Bangor to Rockland continues on to Bath, Brunswick, Portland and the world, and it is convenient for traveling islanders. They can board the ferry at 7 and be in Rockland in time to meet the southbound bus.
The one time it has inconvenienced me was when I was writing for Bangor Metro magazine years ago, and was sent to cover the dedication of Vinalhaven’s three wind turbines. Governor Baldacci was there, as were both Pingrees, photographer Peter Ralston from the Island Institute, and virtually every resident of Vinalhaven and North Haven islands. My colleague and I had to make the 8:45 ferry, and we had no option other than to drive.
One thing I’ve learned in my years of using and writing about public transportation is that it’s impossible to serve all of the people all of the time. Designing routes so that they connect conveniently is a complicated task. The Community Connector bus system in Bangor, for example, is constrained by the need for buses to converge at the downtown hub at the same time. It’s even harder to coordinate services from different transportation providers.
On weekday mornings, I can walk up the street and flag down the Capehart bus, which will deposit me at the Concord Coach station on Union Street in time for the 7 a.m. departure. But on Saturday, the first Community Connector doesn’t run until after 7, and on Sunday there is no local bus service at all.
Worse is the situation I face when I get back to town. A Concord Coach bus leaves Rockland at 4:15 p.m. and arrives at the Bangor depot around six. But this is fifteen minutes after the last Community Connector headed downtown has passed by. I am left with the choice of walking or taking a cab.
This last problem could be resolved in the short term by extending the Community Connector hours later into the evening – something the Bangor City Council is at long last addressing. The long term solution is to centralize public transportation services – Greyhound, Concord Coach, the Community Connector, and the eventual train to Bar Harbor – at a single downtown hub. Rockland effectively does this on a smaller scale by locating its bus stop at the ferry terminal, in the heart of town.
Rockland was in the news recently for purported parking problems associated with a new downtown hotel. Critics contend that the developers were allowed to build the hotel without providing adequate parking, with the result that traffic nearby has become dangerous for pedestrians.
But Rockland is, as one person at the public landing put it to me recently, equidistant from almost anywhere in Maine. It’s a popular destination that can be reached by bus, boat, train (in the summer) and airplane (at the nearby Owl’s Head airport). There is no reason to assume that everyone has to drive there. The solution is not to promote more parking, but to encourage alternatives.
The new hotel should charge one price for a room, and a separate, additional price for a parking space. I’ve seen this done in Quebec City. (Confession: I drove there, and paid the extra parking cost without complaint.) This would both fairly distribute costs for services, and reduce car traffic in the region.
As I’ve said before, we are living in the Late Automobile Age. There is a growing consensus that we are using our cars to excess, and doing harm to our lives and communities as a rusult. Everyone doesn’t need to drive everywhere, all the time. As this awareness grows, public policy must adapt to meet the needs of a new era of smarter, more efficient transportation.