After getting stuck in an economic rut, the Wheels program, which will bring buses to Brunswick and Topsham, is back on the road.

Director of Transit Operations for the Maine Transportation Department Barbara Donovan has said that all necessary funds have been collected. An announcement will be made as soon as this December confirming when services will start.

The December announcement will come nearly a year and a half after the program was originally scheduled to begin.

"The goal is the fall 2010," Donovan said. "We have the funds."

When operational, the Wheels program will act as a fixed-route busing service for the Brunswick and Topsham communities.

While exact locations for bus stops have not officially been decided, it is expected that several of the locations on the Wheels' route will be useful to Bowdoin students.

The Wheels program was first conceived in 2004, when a number of local community groups organized the Midcoast Collaborative for Access to Transportation (MCAT) to help their patrons—many of whom were either elderly, handicapped or didn't own cars—get around town.

Once their goal was decided upon, MCAT contacted Coastal Transportation, a local non-profit, to help organize and eventually run the Wheels program. Coastal Transportation currently provides pick-up services for the elderly and handicapped in the Brunswick area.

Originally scheduled to start operations in September 2008, the Wheels program was put on hold when promised donations failed to materialize and state and federal grants proved more difficult to attain than was previously expected.

In regards to the the delay, Bowdoin College Director of Finance and representative to MCAT Del Wilson said that MCAT "made some assumptions about available funds, and we were very forward with the game plan at the time, and it took us some time to get the funding."

"Everybody wants to start right away," said Donovan, concerning the missed 2008 goal. When asked if the recent economic downturn had caused either the federal or state government to delay or constrain grant funds, she responded that was the case.

Of the estimated $625,000 that the State estimates will have to be spent to purchase the three buses desired for Wheels, the Federal Transportation Department provided 80 percent of the funding from the Rural Transit Service Fund, the State provided 15 percent, and the Brunswick community raised 5 percent. Bowdoin College contributed $10,000 towards the capital costs of buying the buses. Other donors, including the Town of Brunswick, local hospitals and other groups who expect their patrons to need the service, contributed as well.

According to Donovan, the Federal government will also provide an additional $200,000 per year for the first three years of the program from the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Fund.

This money is expected to cover 80 percent of the estimated operational costs for that period. After the first three years, the fund will provide money for 50 percent of future operating costs. The College and the Town of Brunswick have also pledged to help pay for the operating cost of the program.

Additional funding will come from bus fares, which are expected to be one dollar for a one-way ride and less for frequent riders, according to Director of Coastal Transportation Lee Karker.

According to a 2007 article from the Times Record, the type of buses under consideration for the Wheels program will be 40 percent more fuel efficient than comparable buses, with efficiencies derived from a partially battery powered engine and a special break system.

Now that appropriate funds have been collected, the Wheels program must find a vendor to sell them the buses they need. Deliberations on bus routes and stops must also be made. MCAT will play a part in these decisions.

Despite the delay, Wilson is confident that the Wheels program will suceed.

"Whenever we're able to establish this [program] there is going to be a positive impact on the community," he said.