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March 6, 2019

Greater Portland METRO proposes changes to fares, payment structure

Courtesy / Greater Portland Transit District
Courtesy / Greater Portland Transit District
The Greater Portland Transit District last summer rolled out its new Husky Line buses connecting Gorham, Westbrook and Portland with University of Southern Maine campuses in Portland and Gorham.

The Greater Portland METRO bus service plans changes in both the cost of riding the bus and how people pay for it, and has scheduled a series of meetings across the seven communities that use the service for input.

While part of the change is an increase to the basic fare from $1.50 to $2 and the introduction of mobile app and plastic card technology to pay, the biggest change is payment restructuring that eliminates decades-long inequities for low-income riders.

The transit service offers fixed-route service in Portland, South Portland, Gorham, Westbrook, Brunswick, Falmouth, Freeport and Yarmouth. Ridership has steadily increased over the past few years, reaching nearly 2 million riders last year as routes were expanded and offerings increased.

The proposed "fare capping," means that riders can load as much money as they want onto a smart card or mobile app, but would never pay more than $6 a day or $60 a month for rides. Currently, discounts that kick in based on how much a rider uses the bus only come with a 10-ride ticket, which offers a small discount, or a $45 monthly pass, which riders pay for up front.

That's something that's beyond reach for many low-income riders. Still, those riders end up paying more over the month as they pay cash for each ride, said Greg Jordan, general manager of Greater Portland Metro.

"There's a fundamental inequity now," he said. Because the technology to offer discounts based on number of rides hasn't existed until recently, the inequity was a reality of bus service across the country.

Riders who use the new technology will all get the same discount, no matter how much money they load at a time, which can be any amount. The buses will still take cash, but the monthly and 10-ride passes will be eliminated.

Jordan said that fare capping is new, so there's no data to show how much it's used and how much money it saves riders in places it's being used, but the transit district believes that it will save many riders money.

"We've established that there are a lot of cash users," he said. Many of them ride the bus frequently enough that they would pay less with the new technology.

The proposed fare increase to $2 came after a study of similar New England urban areas, including Manchester, N.H., and Burlington, Vt. Jordan said that most charge somewhere between $1.50 and $2.

The service would also extend reduced fares, which are now available to riders older than 65, riders with disabilities and any Medicare card holder, to also include riders between the ages of 6 and 18.

Fare changes, if approved by the board, would be implemented later this year and the smart card and mobile app technology would be in 2020.

Public input 'critical'

The bus service expects a full-bore education campaign once the Board of Directors approves any changes in April, but it's seeking public input before decisions are made.

The meetings, which begin next week and wrap up at the end of the month, will be in Portland, Westbrook, Gorham, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick.

Jordan said that residents of the communities are encouraged to attend. "It's critical," he said. "We take public discussion seriously."

They will be open-attendance, rather than a formal presentation, so those taking part can come in at their convenience, look over information, ask questions and fill out the survey. The surveys will also be available online at gpmetro.org.

The meeting schedule is:

  • Portland: 3-7 p.m. Tuesday, March 12; 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 16, Rines Auditorium, Portland Public Library.
  • Brunswick: 5-7 p.m. Thursday, March 14,, Room 206, Brunswick Town Hall, 85 Union St.
  • Westbrook: 3:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, March 18, Westbrook Community Center (Spruce Room), 226 Bridge St.
  • Yarmouth: 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, Community Room, Yarmouth Town Hall, 200 Main St.
  • Falmouth: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, Lunt Auditorium, 74 Lunt Road.
  • Freeport: 5-7 p.m. Monday, March 25, Chambers, Freeport Town Hall, 30 Main St.
  • Gorham: 5-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, Conference Room A, Gorham Municipal Center, 75 South St.
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