Ride the Bus Month in Bangor is winding down. November featured two free Tuesdays and a handful of events designed to raise awareness of the Community Connector and the essential service it provides to area residents without cars. But one does not need to live without a car, as some do by choice and others do by necessity, to use and appreciate the bus system.
I’ve spent a lot of space singing the praises of the Community Connector, formerly known as the BAT (Bangor Area Transit) bus. In this week’s post, drawing on ideas I’ve heard from other bus supporters, I’m going to gently suggest some areas for improvement.
Number one, of course, is the need for later evening hours. Everyone who uses the service regularly seems to agree on this. Many is the night I’ve wanted to stay downtown, or at the University of Maine, for some evening event, but have been discouraged by the prospect of a walk or a cab ride home. Later hours would be a boon to businesses along bus routes. In winter, especially, later bus service would provide a transportation option to those who don’t like to drive in the dark or shovel a car out of a snowed-in driveway.
The Community Connector could do more to connect to other public transportation services – those that exist now as well as in the future. A good place to start is with the Concord Coach depot on Union Street, from which two buses depart at seven in the morning, bound for the middle Maine coast, Augusta, Portland, and Boston. The Community Connector’s Capehart route can get you there Monday through Friday, but only from downtown, and on Saturday the local bus starts too late to make the connection. The situation in the evening is worse, because Concord’s 6 p.m. arrivals leave you hung out to dry out on Union Street, fifteen minutes after the last inbound Community Connector bus has gone by.
Greyhound, the other long-distance bus service, is even less connected. It’s been uprooted from its formerly convenient location, steps from the Community Connector’s downtown hub, and exiled to Dysart’s Truck Stop out on the interstate in Hermon, five miles away. This is bad enough, but the lack of any sort of shuttle service between the two is unconscionable.
In a similar vein, I’ve had people who live in surrounding towns tell me that they would ride a bus, were one available, to work in Bangor. Imagine a fleet of small commuter buses serving, say, Dedham, Holden, Hermon, Orrington and Winterport, for starters. These buses would connect with the Community Connector at the outer edges of its existing routes, enabling commuters to leave their cars at home, or in a convenient park-and-ride lot.
A worthy long-term goal for the area is a downtown public transportation hub, expandable to include future train lines and additional bus services, as we move toward a more sensible infrastructure less dependent on the idea that everyone should own a car.
Another rider suggested that some of the existing Community Connector routes should be split up, in order to serve high-demand destinations more frequently. Eastern Maine Medical Center is on the Old Town route, with one bus per hour in each direction. The other popular destination on this route is the University of Maine. Might it be more efficient to split the route in two? The loop between the University and Old Town could continue to run hourly, while the more densely populated part of the corridor, including the hospital, could be served twice an hour instead of once.
Many of my University students complain that it’s almost impossible to get to the Bangor Mall and back by bus. Currently, they have to take a bus downtown, then transfer to the Mount Hope or Stillwater bus, and then reverse the process to get home. A direct route between the University and the Mall, or a connection out by Hogan Road, would help to alleviate this problem.
This all may read like a holiday wish list, a prayer to a public transportation Santa with limited space in his shop. But these aren’t just my wishes. They’ve been culled from a number of conversations I’ve had this November with people who want to see the Bangor area seriously invest in improved bus service. If Ride the Bus Month has done nothing else, it’s gotten people to talk about these and other ideas, and to think about how we want to get around in the future.