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July 16, 2020

Presque Isle bus service, an Aroostook County first, comes to an end

bus Courtesy / Going Places The PI Loop, launched Oct. 15, 2019, in Presque Isle, has ceased operations.

Aroostook County’s first local, fixed-route bus service has come to the end of the road.

The PI Loop, which began serving Presque Isle last October but shut down in March, has permanently ceased operations.

The Going Places Network, a community coalition that oversaw the service, said on Facebook that the group had sought another operator for the PI Loop after the original one, the Aroostook Regional Transportation System, pulled out.

The ARTS suspended the service because of concerns about the pandemic as well as low ridership, the network said. An operation agreement ended March 31, and a search for a new operator “did not yield any viable options.”

With a regular fare of $1.75, the PI Loop made 16 stops throughout Presque Isle, situated to help passengers reach commercial areas, housing, schools, health care facilities, retail stores and other destinations. In its initial weeks the bus service had exceeded ridership goals, and over its five-month life carried 3,600 riders, Going Places said.

The service was a response to a longtime lack of transportation services in Aroostook County, the largest geographically in Maine — but with 70,000 residents, one of the most sparsely populated. Lack of transportation was cited as the top concern of the nearly 1,000 Aroostook County residents who participated in a recent community study, ranking even ahead of substance abuse.

“This is really sad,” a Facebook user posted in response to the Going Places announcement. “I’ve been a social worker in this area for over 20 years. Lack of transportation is one of the biggest barriers people face. I wish a viable replacement would have been found."

Previously, ARTS provided limited, on-demand bus service to and around Presque Isle, but the trips required reservations.

Now the two vehicles operated by the PI Loop will carry other types of riders.

Going Places has donated its 36-passenger bus to Maine School Administrative District 1, which serves Presque Isle as well as Castle Hill, Chapman, Mapleton and Westfield. A 16-passenger minibus has gone to Northern Maine Community College.

A news release last week from the college in Presque Isle said the vehicle will be wrapped in the school’s colors and logo, and will serve multiple purposes on campus and in the Aroostook community. For example, the bus may shuttle students to NMCC nursing courses held in Houlton.

“We’re immensely appreciative to receive this piece of equipment. Several departments on campus will benefit from the bus in terms of training, as well as group transportation,” NMCC President Tim Crowley said.

Some of the funding for the buses and other infrastructure came from a $270,000 gift by Presque Isle native and philanthropist Mary Smith.

Going Places said it is working with donors to redirect support pledged to the PI Loop, and is also exploring other transportation options for the county. They include a program expected to be released by the state this summer to provide cars to working families.

“Our work to bring solutions to the transportation challenges that face our community continues,” said GPN Co-Chair LeRae Kinney. “The need for better and more transportation for residents of Aroostook County remains.

“Although we are saddened that the PI Loop, as we knew it, will not return, we are undaunted and ready to move forward as a network of partners with our work to find new and innovative solutions to a problem that has long-faced our communities.”

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