When the bus halted its Saturday service last summer, Robert Cote of Brewer was forced to take a cab to the Bangor restaurant where he works, costing him about $20 each way. Sometimes he could get a ride from family or friends, but he avoided asking every week because he didn’t want to be a burden.
“It felt like I was going to work to pay for a ride there and back,” Cote said. “It has been really difficult getting around.”
Aside from getting to work, Cote relies on the bus daily to go to medical appointments, buy groceries and run errands, as his poor eyesight prevents him from driving.
For the regular riders like Cote of the Community Connector, the regional bus system that serves Bangor, Brewer, Orono, Hampden, Old Town, Veazie and the University of Maine, the return of Saturday service on June 3 is welcome news. It will be the first Saturday the bus has run since June 11, 2022, when the bus system eliminated Saturdays from its schedule due to staffing shortages.
Brett DePuy, a bus driver of nine months who drives the service’s Mount Hope line, said riders ask him when Saturday service is returning every week. His regular group of riders he brings to and from work every weekday seem most eager for the return.
“Almost everyone has been asking about it,” DePuy said. “They need the bus during the week to get to work, but they still need it on the weekends to get around and do their shopping.”
Maria Victor of Bangor has been taking the bus about once a week since she moved to the area from Sacramento — which offers daily public transportation — in 2017.
Victor said she’s excited to have the bus available on Saturdays again so she can go shopping and visit her daughter. Though she said she wishes the bus ran on Sundays too so she could take it to church.
Bus fares will be free on June 3 to celebrate the return.
“We were down to 24 drivers, and we couldn’t continue,” Laurie Linscott, Community Connector superintendent said.
After cutting Saturdays from the bus schedule, Linscott kicked hiring efforts into overdrive by offering a commercial driving class in Bangor adult education and adding a referral bonus for new and existing drivers.
At the time, Linscott said she hoped to have enough drivers to restart Saturday service by the winter.
“Never did I think it would be out for a year,” Linscott said. “It has been a trying year. I can’t believe we’re here.”
Now, Linscott has 42 licensed bus drivers, more than enough to bring back Saturday service with a few additional people to cover Saturday if a few people are out sick or on vacation. Linscott also knows a few school bus drivers who could drive a bus in a pinch.
During the shortage, Linscott said she first ended bus service on holidays, but then had to eliminate a day of service. Saturday was chosen because ridership was typically lowest on that day.
Previously, the buses saw about 981 rides on Saturdays, significantly fewer than the 1,500 to 2,000 rides weekdays see, according to Linscott.
With the COVID-19 pandemic waning, Linscott said the Community Connector averages 33,000 to 35,000 rides each month. Prior to the pandemic, the service’s average monthly ridership was 50,000 to 60,000 rides.
The transit center in Pickering Square will also be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.