Maine Transit Agencies Confused by Out-of-State Rider Rules

The state requirement that riders on buses, ferries and the like show proof of negative coronavirus tests before using public transit has officials in the Portland area confused about enforcement.

by Peter McGuire, Portland Press Herald / June 11, 2020

(TNS) — Out-of-state visitors should show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before using Maine public transportation, including island ferries, according to updates to the state's pandemic directives.

But some transit agencies are unclear about the apparent rule, and the manager of the Portland-area public bus service says drivers should not enforce restrictions on who uses public transportation.

The most recent version of the state's COVID-19 frequently asked questions posits whether out-of-state visitors can use public transit to reach their place of quarantine if arriving without a negative test result.

"No, before using public transportation in Maine, travelers from other states should be able to demonstrate that they pose a minimal risk of exposure by having tested negative with a sample collected within 72 hours," the FAQ says.

The document, a baseline for how to interpret Gov. Janet Mills's executive orders, was updated Monday when she announced out-of-state tourists could visit Maine staring in July without quarantining if they had a recent negative COVID-19 test.

The guidance about public transportation creates more questions than clarity. It is unclear whether the expectation for travelers is in effect now or whether it will apply in July, like other testing requirements. How transit agencies should check passengers for compliance is also uncertain.

Mills' other executive orders, including a May 29 order further implementing the state's reopening plan, say that public transit should be used only for essential purposes.

Requiring a test could disadvantage part-time residents who need to board vessels of the Maine State Ferry Service or Casco Bay Lines to reach their island homes. It could prove disappointing for people who intended to quarantine on their property but are not able to receive a COVID-19 test.

Kate Foye, spokeswoman for the Department of Economic and Community Development, referred questions about the new restrictions to the Maine Department of Transportation.

A spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation said it was seeking clarification about the testing requirement. The department operates the Maine State Ferry Service to six islands in Penobscot and Jericho bays and does not check passengers' identification to find out where they are from, spokesman Paul Merrill said.

Casco Bay Lines, which runs ferries to the islands offshore Portland, said in a statement it was looking into the new testing rule and did not have any details to share.

Representatives from Amtrak's Downeaster passenger rail, which intends to restart limited service Monday, did not respond when asked whether it was aware of the requirement or how it intends to enforce it.

Greater Portland Metro has posted the state's rules about public transit only for essential trips but has not enforced the policy, said General Manager Greg Jordan. Ridership is 75 percent below the same time last year, so many people are staying off public buses anyway, he said.

Drivers are told not to ask people's reason for a trip, and it would be impractical and unfair to ask them to do so, Jordan said.

"We are not going to ask anyone for their trip purpose," he said.

©2020 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

 

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