February 12, 2019

Portland METRO breaks ridership record, plans changes

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
New routes and programs have boosted ridership on Greater Portland Transit District METRO service to nearly 2 million rides a year in 2018, an increase of 5% over 2017, part of a regional increase in public transportation use.

New routes and programs have boosted ridership on Greater Portland Transit District METRO service to nearly 2 million rides a year in 2018, an increase of 5% over 2017, part of a regional increase in public transportation use.

The bus service, which has routes in Portland and Westbrook, as well as routes that run to Brunswick and Gorham, also announced it will change its fare structure and payment system this year to modernize the system and "improve affordability."

Ridership was 1,947,038 in 2018, up from 1,850,686 in 2017. The number of riders on METRO buses has steadily increased since 2013. The service started in 1966.

"Metro's ridership results demonstrate that high quality public transit works in southern Maine, but we have a lot more work to do," General Manager Greg Jordan said in a news release. "We need to continue modernizing the system, improving bus stops and providing 21st century fare payment options while also improving affordability and increasing bus arrival frequency so we can get people to their destinations faster."

More service in 2018

The bus service said introduction of the Transit West program in 2018 was a big part of increased ridership. The program includes:

  • New crosstown service between Portland/Riverton, Westbrook, and South Portland (with continued service into Portland).
  • Introduction of a Husky Line route between Portland, Westbrook, and Gorham, providing a transit link for Gorham residents and business owners.
  • The U-Pass program (between METRO and the University of Southern Maine), which provides free transit access between USM campuses and throughout the transit system for students, staff and faculty.

The METRO provides service in Portland, Westbrook, Falmouth Crossing and the Maine Mall area of South Portland seven days a week, as well as the BREEZ express, which runs to Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick, and the Husky Line.

On the move

Courtesy / Greater Portland Transit District
Courtesy / Greater Portland Transit District
Chart shows the 20-year ridership trend for the Greater Portland Transit District.

Ridership throughout the region is up as population increases and people are more willing to use public transportation, Kristina Egan, executive director of the Greater Portland Council of Governments, said Tuesday.

"Public transportation is on the move in Greater Portland," she said. "In the last eight years, we've added a lot more service, which bucks the national trend."

Nationally, use of public transportation decreased 2.9% in 2016-17, but was up 6.4% in the Portland region.

Egan said that aside from changes that helped increase service to the Portland bus service, South Portland also added Sunday service and the Regional Transportation Program added the Lake Region Explorer, which runs daily between Bridgton, in western Cumberland County, to Portland five days a week.

There are also five daily round trips on the Downeaster Amtrak train service between Brunswick and Portland, she said.

Transit ridership in the Portland region increased from about 3.8 million rides in 2014 to 4.3 million in 2017, according to the Greater Portland Council of Governments, which oversees the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Service. The service includes the 18 communities from Old Orchard Beach to Freeport and includes the region's seven transit agencies.

Portland METRO is the largest, but it also includes NNEPRA, the authority that runs the Downeaster; Casco Bay Lines ferry service; South Portland's bus service; Shuttlebus Zoom, the transit agency that serves Saco, Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach; Regional Transportation Program, a para-transit agency that also runs the Lake Region Explorer; and YCCAC, a para-transit agency that serves York County.

Changes in 2019

Changes for the METRO this year will include both how fares are collected and how communities along the routes pay for the service. Details of those changes weren't immediately available.

METRO will hold public meetings in March in the communities on routes to discuss fare payment changes. Yarmouth, Freeport, and Brunswick will also vote in the coming months on continued METRO BREEZ express service.

Last year, METRO also added eleven new buses to its fleet; installed new bus stop signs across the system, highlighted new branding and introduced a new website that features text alerts with subscriber options for system updates.

The service plans to add 13 new replacement buses will be delivered this year or in 2020, and in 2020 plans to improve service on the Portland Peninsula, providing more frequency, more options and better connections for current and future transit riders, the release said.


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