PORTLAND, Maine — The city’s metro area may get a faster, better-connected mass transit system in the future but not right away, according to an agreement released this week.
Regional transportation officials adopted a plan on Jan. 26 intended to serve as a roadmap for future investment in Greater Portland’s complicated public transportation system. Seven separate agencies signed onto the document after working with a team of consultants and regional planners.
By coordinating together the agencies hope to attract more riders as well as make the system more effective and efficient.
The seven organizations are Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit, Casco Bay Lines, Greater Portland METRO, Regional Transportation Program, South Portland Bus Service, York County Community Action Corporation and Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees Amtrak Downeaster service.
“The region’s transit network has undergone incremental, individual, agency-led changes over the past several decades, which inevitably contributes to some level of fragmentation,” said Andrew Clark, transit program manager at the Greater Portland Council of Governments. “The plan reimagines the entire system.”
The new plan is called “Transit Together.”
Key goals include:
• More direct connections between major transportation hubs, including Portland’s Transportation Center on Thompson’s Point, Monument Square and the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal on Commercial Street.
• More frequent service to places where demand is high or growing, including Portland’s eastern waterfront.
• Establishing a high-frequency corridor on Congress Street, allowing faster connections between bus routes up and down the peninsula.
• Focusing more on transit-critical areas, including major bus frequency upgrades on routes serving transit-reliant populations in high-density areas of South Portland.
• Faster and more direct bus routes that are easier to understand, including a redesigned network of fast and direct routes serving South Portland, Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach.
• Enhanced coordination among agencies, including the creation of a unified regional transit brand, improved accessibility at transit stops and hubs, and integrated technology systems to improve riders’ ability to access information and plan their trip across agencies.
• Better connections among transportation services, including connections to the Portland Jetport, Amtrak Downeaster, intercity buses and Casco Bay Lines ferries.
However, the public shouldn’t expect any changes immediately. Following the adoption last week by regional transportation officials, the transit agencies’ governing bodies still must approve the recommendations. If approved, implementation could take many months, according to the Greater Portland Council of Governments
Some of the changes are complex and will require additional planning, public outreach and design work. Other recommended improvements, including higher-frequency service, higher-quality bus stops and service to new places, will require additional funding from federal, state, regional or local governments.
“I appreciate the coordination between regional transit providers, Greater Portland Council of Governments staff and the consultant team,” said Chad Heid, executive director of Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit. “Operators now have the important task of evaluating and assessing feasibility for the broad list of potential strategies and actions put forth.”