With a spike in public transportation usage, the Greater Portland Council of Governments is trying to determine their transit priorities so they can focus on providing the best bus, train and ferry service to citizens.
The kickoff for the study, called Transit Tomorrow, is Thursday, when the new commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, Bruce Van Note, will join local transit officials to discuss the 18-month effort.
Use of public transit in southern Maine has been growing in recent years and jumped from nearly 3.8 million riders in 2013 to almost 4.3 million in 2017, an increase of more than 13 percent, according to the Greater Portland Council of Governments. That growth ran counter to national trends, which showed gradually decreasing use of public transit during the period.
The study will cost $200,000, with 80 percent of the money coming from federal funds, the council said. The agency is currently looking for a consultant to lead the study.
New train and bus routes, increased ferry ridership and upgrades in facilities around Southern Maine are driving much of increase, the council said.
“To meet demand, we need to plan for the future,” GPCOG said in a statement announcing the study. The goal, it said, is “a shared vision for the region’s public transportation network of buses, trains and ferries and (to) lay out an investment plan for how to improve and expand our network over the next 30 years.”
The agency said that effort will require public participation to help determine how different segments of the population – workers, students and seniors – move through the region and can use public transit instead of private vehicles.
“Knowing our priorities will position the region to access more federal dollars for improving and expanding transit,” the statement said
The study also will involve housing agency officials and developers to help make sure that transit plans can be adjusted to accommodate growth in the region, the statement said.
Traffic flow has been a major concern, especially in the Old Port and new areas of the East End and Bayside, where there has been sustained development. For instance, payment processing company Wex said it intends to offer a shuttle service for its employees working at the company’s new headquarters in the Old Port to help offset traffic congestion.
The study also will try to take into account new technology, such as self-driving vehicles and the needs of electric vehicles as well as services such as Uber and Lyft.
In addition to Van Note, speakers at the kick-off are expected to include representatives of transit services in Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Portland and South Portland, along with officials representing the Metro bus service, Casco Bay Lines, the agency that operates Amtrak’s Downeaster train, the Regional Transportation Program and GPCOG.
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