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Bowdoin subsidizes bus service to attract employees from Portland

March 31, 2017

The Metro BREEZ bus will extend its service to Brunswick this fall after receiving approval from the Brunswick Town Council for a two-year pilot program on March 8. Bowdoin has pledged to contribute $10,000 to the service for each of the next two years, approximately 20 percent of the program’s cost.

While students may choose to take advantage of the bus, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Matt Orlando said that Bowdoin’s primary motivation in subsidizing the service was to help attract more employees to Brunswick by increasing transportation options.

“There’s a tight labor market right now in the Brunswick-Midcoast region. We’re having some positions in Dining and Facilities that we are posting and getting very few applicants for,” said Orlando.

The bus to Brunswick will be an expansion of a three-year commuter bus pilot program between Portland and Freeport—with additional stops in Falmouth and Yarmouth—that Metro BREEZ launched last summer. The service runs 10 bus trips each way on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. and five buses on Saturdays.

A schedule for the service’s expansion to Brunswick has not yet been released but will be similar to the current schedule between Portland and Freeport. A one-way trip between Brunswick and Portland is expected to cost between five and six dollars, according to Orlando.

At a meeting hosted by the College in January, several local businesses shared the College’s concern about a shortage of labor, Orlando said. According to a report released by the Maine Department of Labor last Friday, the unemployment rate in Maine in February was just 3.2 percent, and the rate for Cumberland County was 2.7 percent, compared to a national unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.

“We’re hoping that this opens the door for folks living in Portland [who] don’t have the transportation without a bus and that they’ll now take another look at working in the Brunswick area,” Orlando said.

He expressed hope that current staff and faculty, many of whom live in Portland, would also utilize the service, noting the environmental benefits of public transportation compared to individual car use.

“We’d be very happy if the faculty and staff chose to take the transportation rather than drive their car to work. It reduces our carbon footprint, and [driving] takes up parking spots,” Orlando said.

Metro BREEZ has not announced the specific location of bus stops in Brunswick, but Orlando said there will be at least two stops in Brunswick, one of which will be at Bowdoin.

The Town Council will evaluate the bus service at the end of the two-year pilot to determine whether the program will continue. The service will cost the town of Brunswick $33,000 in its first year and $43,000 in its second year, the Forecaster reported. Several councilors argued that Bowdoin should contribute a larger subsidy because the College expects to benefit from the service and is tax-exempt.

Orlando said the College will evaluate its contribution after two years.

Bowdoin subsidized the Brunswick Explorer—a local bus with 13 stops in Brunswick—when the service first launched in 2010. However, the College ended the subsidy after a transportation survey revealed that students, faculty and staff rarely used the Explorer.

Senior Lecturer in Physics Karen Topp, who campaigned heavily in favor of the Metro BREEZ expansion, hopes that the service will gather enough use to last beyond the two-year pilot.

“I’m hoping … that students as well as members of the community will use it enough that the town will say, ‘Yes, that was a good investment,’ and continue it,” Topp said.

Maxx Byron ’19 was excited by the prospects of the bus.

“It is a really good idea,” Byron said. “There should be better access to public transportation, especially for a college town.”

Currently, Amtrak runs three trains a day between Brunswick and Portland. An adult train ticket costs $11. Concord Coach Lines also runs a bus service twice per day, which costs $14 for a one-way ticket from Brunswick to Portland.

Metro BREEZ will host a community planning session to take questions and input from Brunswick residents on Wednesday, April 26  at 6 p.m. at the Brunswick Town Hall.

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