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Maine transit agencies to invest millions to improve public transportation

Maine transit agencies reached an agreement to invest $8 million in federal funds to improve their transportation network and increase ridership.

MAINE, USA — Riders of public transportation in southern Maine can expect to see a number of improvements to the region's transportation network beginning in 2023. 

Transit agencies in the Greater Portland area reached an agreement to invest $8 million in improvements to their transportation networks, increase reliability and convenience, and attract higher levels of ridership following the pandemic.

"These improvements are vital to our transportation network," Belinda Ray, director of strategic partnerships at the Greater Portland Council of Governments, said. 

The money for the improvements comes from the American Rescue Plan, which was allocated for improvements to the region's public transportation system. 

"With these improvements, with these enhancements, people will see greater frequency, which means they have to think less about scheduling. Because if you get to a bus stop, you know there's a bus coming within the next 15 minutes," Ray said. 

Included in the spending are $2.9 million for comprehensive service improvements for the Greater Portland METRO. That funding will go toward increasing the frequency of certain routes, extending hours of service, and more.

"This money is going to help us improve that frequency, those headways on the Stevens Avenue and Washington Avenue corridors, and also Congress Street," Greg Jordan, executive director of the Greater Portland METRO, said. 

The American Rescue Plan funds will go to support improvements at multiple local transit agencies. Around $1.1 million is earmarked to reduce fares by half on Biddeford Saco Old Orchard Beach Transit, METRO, and South Portland Bus Service for a promotional period in 2023. A total of $822,000 will be used to add another bus to the Southern Maine Connector route as well. 

"We need these kinds of innovative, and expansionary programs to kind of drive ridership back. We can't wait for it to come back. We have to build a better system for people to make the choice to use public transportation again," Jordan said.

In an effort to improve accessibility at bus stops, $750,000 has been allocated for improvements across the region. 

Funds have also been allocated to purchase traffic signal equipment for the METRO, to develop a passenger information system for The South Portland Bus Service, Biddeford Saco Old Orchard Beach Transit, Casco Bay Lines, and York County Community Action Corporation. 

Casco Bay Lines and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority will also receive $1 million for discounted Downeaster fare promotions, improved signage for the Downeaster, and recovery of operational losses for Casco Bay Lines due to the pandemic.

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