Unlike Everything Else you will Read this Week, this isn’t about the Election

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Ride the Bus Month is underway in the greater Bangor area.

Halloween afternoon blew cloudy and cold into Bangor, but people gathered in Pickering Square nonetheless, to eat, compare costumes, and talk about public transportation.

Since I ride the Community Connector bus about 300 times a year, I thought I’d go express my support (and grab some free food) at the event, which launched Ride the Bus Month in the greater Bangor area. Several members of the Bangor City Council attended, and State Senator Geoff Gratwick emceed a costume contest for the kids. Most of the grownups talked about how to make the bus system better.

I’m one of the lucky ones whose work schedule coordinates with the Community Connector’s daytime hours. Others aren’t so fortunate. Many more people could use the bus to commute to their jobs if the hours were extended later in the evening. This applies in particular to workers at the Bangor Mall and retail businesses that stay open after five o’clock.

Everyone I’ve talked to in my ten years of riding the bus agrees on the need for extended evening hours. And we’re working toward that as a community. I believe it will happen within the next couple of years. True, lasting progress is almost always incremental. At the same time, I appreciate the expense involved in expanding the bus service. Our public officials have difficult choices to make and limited funds at their discretion.

If there’s one message Ride the Bus Month can effectively communicate to the general public, I think it should be this: better bus service boosts business. (That could be a bumper sticker – but where would I put it?)

I’m just one person riding the bus instead of driving a car, but consider:

Every month I don’t make a car payment, or an insurance payment, or fill up a gas tank, that’s more discretionary income I have to spend at local businesses. The bus makes the community more business-friendly. A mixed transportation picture that includes cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians is more conducive to business and social interaction.

Every time I use the bus instead of a car, that’s one less occupied parking space downtown. It’s one less car in line at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, one less car backed up at the traffic light, one less car trying to negotiate an event at the Cross Center or on the Waterfront. Even if you never use the bus, it has made your life better.

Now multiply me by everyone who could make the same choice if the hours were extended. A regular rider told of her friends who drive to their downtown jobs because they aren’t ready to leave at 5:15, when the last bus currently departs. Another suggested splitting the Bangor-Old Town route in half so that a bus would pass Eastern Maine Medical Center in each direction every half hour. I said a direct route between The University of Maine and the Bangor Mall would help a number of my employed students.

But the reality on the ground is that such changes, however desirable, come slowly. The money to improve the system has to come from somewhere. We supporters of the Community Connector should focus first on extending the hours. That should be the first and most immediate priority. Other improvements will come in time with increased support. Ongoing outreach efforts like Ride The Bus Month can help keep the bus system in the public eye, and convince taxpayers that it’s worth the expense.

Public transportation is not a subsidy. It is an investment in a community. I call on the general public, and the business community in particular, to support the ongoing expansion and improvement of the Community Connector bus system.

The University of Maine and other area colleges are doing their part. Paying for students and employees to ride the bus alleviates the need for additional, expensive parking. Why can’t other large employers in the area – the hospitals, Cianbro, the Mall – get on board with this?

The future of transportation in the Bangor area does not belong exclusively to the automobile. In addition to people who can’t drive, for physical or financial reasons, the bus system serves those of us who want a functional and convenient alternative.

Whether you ride the bus regularly, infrequently, or not at all, the Community Connector deserves your support.

For more information on Ride the Bus Month, contact Martin Chartrand, 989-5850 or martin@foodandmedicine.org.

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