June 25, 2021

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Strategic plan aims to expand public transportation in Portland region

Public transit operators have approved a 30-year strategic plan to improve and expand public transportation in the Portland region.

The “Transit Tomorrow” plan developed by the Greater Portland Council of Governments lays out a shared vision for growing public transportation in the region, making it easier and more convenient to use and improving accessibility. The region’s first-ever strategic transportation plan is the culmination of two years of planning with passengers, residents, municipalities, transit agencies and businesses.

“Transit Tomorrow provides a roadmap for public transportation in our region,” Chris Chop, the council of governments’ transportation director, said in a news release. “Its recommendations are to make public transportation easier to use, more convenient, accessible, and reliable; and as fast as and more affordable than driving a car.” 

Before the start of the pandemic, more passengers were riding public transportation in southern Maine than at any time in the past decade. From 2013 to 2018, ridership on public buses in the region grew by 24 percent to 2.8 million rides, according to an analysis by the council of governments, a regional planning group. During the same period, public transportation use fell by 5 percent nationally. About 70 percent of ridership in 2018 was on Greater Portland Metro’s bus service.

A more coordinated approach has been seen as a critical step toward expanding and improving services in southern Maine.

Transit Tomorrow proposes a four-part strategy that includes making public transportation easier to use, creating more frequent connections throughout the region, improving rapid transit connections between the region’s major market centers and implementing transit-friendly land use policies that support more development in villages and downtowns already served by transit.

The plan suggests significant frequency and span of service improvements and expanding service to new places. The recommendations include expanding service hours on existing routes from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week and adding new high-frequency downtown circulator routes throughout the region.

The plan also recommends expanding rapid transit services such as light rail, commuter rail and bus service in regional corridors to provide high-speed travel between Saco-Biddeford and Brunswick, South Portland and Gorham, and Portland and Windham, according to the council of governments.

Greg Jordan, general manager of Greater Portland Metro, said the plan aims to make public transportation easier to use by improving the availability, coverage and convenience of the existing network. The plan offers concrete steps for integrating innovative service delivery models and high-capacity transit options along major corridors, he said.

“Achieving these outcomes will stimulate smart economic development and job growth, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve mobility equity in the region and support the health and quality of life in our cities and towns,” Jordan said.

The Transit Tomorrow plan acknowledges that implementing the recommendations – especially rapid transit corridors – will be challenging. The plan says implementation will take into account the need to identify sustainable funding sources, prioritize projects and build political and community support.


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