METRO wants towns to pay more!

Metro seeks more money from towns to fuel Breez bus service, Portland Press Herald, April 30, 2019

With federal backing expected to run out, Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick will have to pay more to keep the popular express commuter service running to their communities.

Three communities north of Portland have to decide whether they will steeply increase their financial backing to maintain an express commuter shuttle to Portland that has beaten revenue and ridership expectations since it started in 2016.

Metro, the Portland-area public transportation company, launched the Breez shuttle in 2016 to provide buses linking Portland to Falmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport. Ridership has surpassed projections, especially since Metro added more runs and eliminated the Falmouth stop, and Brunswick joined the route in 2017.

Back in 2016, Metro predicted that 45,000 riders a year would take the service by 2019. But by June, the agency expects to have 65,000 riders using the Breez buses. Fare revenue, which will pay for about 30 percent of shuttle operations this year, beat expectations by 10 percentage points.

“We are pretty well over where we thought we would be,” Metro General Manager Greg Jordan said.

But federal funding granted three years ago to jump-start the service will likely run out this year. That leaves Brunswick, Freeport and Yarmouth with a choice: steeply increase financial contributions to make the shuttle a permanent fixture or risk losing it.

Mike Spaulding, 46, of Brunswick hopes the service stays. He was one of a handful of riders who got on the northbound shuttle in Monument Square in Portland on Monday afternoon.

Spaulding says he didn’t even know the shuttle existed until a few months ago. Now, he takes it almost every day to his job at E. Perry Iron and Metal, a scrapyard on Lancaster Street in Portland.

He used to dread his commute back and forth to the city. Now, the 45-minute ride doesn’t seem so bad.

“I get to chill out,” Spaulding said. “I look at all the people on the highway, and I’m glad I’m not one of them.”

INCREASING COSTS

Yarmouth, Portland, Brunswick and Freeport would be asked to pay almost $78,000 a year to support the shuttle starting in 2020. Last year, Yarmouth and Freeport each paid $30,345 for the service and Brunswick paid $52,644, according to Metro projections. The three communities also are being asked to pay $36,764 this year to support the Breez – the additional funding is needed because Metro and the towns have conflicting budget years, Jordan said.

The higher price is partially because the three communities would be expected to join Metro and have representation on the board. During the trial period, Metro absorbed some of the overhead costs, such as administration, related to running the Breez. If the three towns join the regional transit agency, they would be responsible for their full share of the cost, Jordan said.

The Metro board has five representatives from Portland, three from Westbrook and two from Falmouth. If Brunswick, Freeport and Yarmouth join, the towns would each get one board representative, and Portland would increase its seats to eight. The city provides 70-80 percent of Metro’s funding, so it is entitled to at least but no more than half the board seats, Jordan said in a letter to the three towns.

Despite the added financial requirement, Jordan thinks towns will sign on to the new arrangement.

“I don’t anticipate any of the three communities pulling out of the project,” he said. “Everyone agrees it has been a success, especially as traffic has increased on I-295,” he added, referring to growing congestion and accidents on the four-lane highway north of Portland. If the service becomes permanent, Metro will  consider extending the service south to Scarborough and Saco by 2021.

“We are at the beginning of what the Breez is capable of doing,” Jordan said.

COMMUTER SERVICES

The Breez runs 13 round trips on weekdays and seven round trips on  Saturday. The shuttle has 15 stops, including Hannaford supermarket and the Town Hall in Yarmouth, Maine Beer Co. and L.L. Bean in Freeport, and the passenger train station and Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

Tickets cost $3 and it takes about an hour to get from Brunswick to Portland. Buses are equipped with power connections and WiFi.

Portland has the most shuttle boardings and alightings, followed by Brunswick, Freeport and Yarmouth, according to Metro statistics.

Yarmouth Town Manager Nat Tupper said the Town Council has not discussed the Metro proposal in detail, but there is money in the current budget proposal to fulfill the agency’s six-month bridge funding request.

“I have not heard from councilors to expect any opposition to it, the Metro Breez has been a big success and is highly valued in Yarmouth,” Tupper said. “I receive a lot of compliments and encouragement from Yarmouth people hoping it will continue and they hope the council supports it.”

In Brunswick, however, the cost increase was enough to give Town Council Chairman John Perreault pause. The town first declined to join the Breez service  over cost concerns, but later decided to join.

The council has not discussed the Metro proposal, but his perception is that councilors will be receptive to the idea, Perreault said. The service is popular in town and he frequently sees people lining up to wait for the shuttle.

“I do think it is an advantage having it. I guess it all depends what they are asking us for in increased funding,” he said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 91-6325 or at:
pmcguire@pressherald.com

THE FORECASTER reports on METRO fare increases

33% INCREASES!

Greater Portland METRO proposes fare, payment changes, Forecaster, March 18, 2019

PORTLAND — The first Greater Portland METRO fare increase since 2010 would also add discounts for younger riders and move toward digital payments.

Local bus fares would increase 50 cents to $2, with the METRO BREEZ express increasing from $3 to $4. BREEZ connects Brunswick and Portland via stops in Falmouth, Freeport and Yarmouth.

METRO would add half-price fares for riders ages 6-18 for all services. Those fares are now available to riders with disabilities or age 65 and older.

As outlined by METRO Marketing Director Denise Beck in a March 8 news release, the changes also cap local fares at $6 per day and $60 monthly. The local caps would be $3 daily and $30 monthly for those eligible for reduced fares.

Full-price BREEZ fares would be capped at $12 per day and $120 per month. Riders eligible for discounted fares using the app or smart card would pay no more than $6 per day and $60 per month.

Riders must use a new app or smart card for the fare caps. The smart card is seen by METRO as a way to increase access to public transportation for low-income riders, who will no longer need to pay higher upfront costs for passes.

The smart cards and app could be linked to bank accounts and credit or debit cards, and riders would also have the option of adding to a smart card balance with cash where the cards are sold.

Beck said the cards would be available where passes are presently sold. Locations can be found at https://bit.ly/2FecBvs, and Beck said METRO expects to expand the sales locations.

Cash fares will still be accepted, and Beck said scanners for the card and app will have to be installed on buses.

The plan will also eliminate transfer slips in favor of a 90-minute window for unlimited rides on local buses after the initial fare is paid. A BREEZ fare would come with a two-hour window for unlimited rides. Passes sold in 10-day and monthly increments will be eliminated, too.

METRO just set a record for annual use with 1.9 million riders and has expanded service to include the Breez, the Husky line linking Portland and Gorham, and a new line linking western Portland, Westbrook and the Maine Mall in South Portland.

The next public meeting about fares will be held 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20 at Lunt Auditorium, 74 Lunt Road, Falmouth.

Additional upcoming meetings will be held 5-7 p.m. Monday, March 25 at Freeport Town Hall, 30 Main St., and 5-7:30 p.m. March 26 at the Gorham Municipal Center, 75 South St.

Beck said the final METRO Ridership Committee meeting will be held 5:45-7 p.m. Wednesday, April 10 at Portland’s East End Community School, 195 North St.

Those unable to attend a meeting are invited to learn more about new fares and payment methods at https://bit.ly/2UDNtDq. The link also offers an online survey on the new fares that will be open until April 10.

The METRO Board of Directors is expected to vote on the new fares April 25, Beck said.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Bus companies seek direct input from USM students

We want USM students' opinions. Drop us a line at:  WiseTransitME@gmail.com

We want USM students' opinions. Drop us a line at: WiseTransitME@gmail.com

(Portland, Maine) Taxpaying bus companies want to know if USM students are happy, or not, with the impending loss of a shuttle service that provides direct, non-stop service between Gorham and Portland.

Another direct blow to USM students will be the loss of shuttle exclusivity, a valued safety net that has been a key feature of the existing shuttle service for many years.

“The feedback we get is that students do not want any stops that lengthen their commute as they travel between Portland and Gorham,” said Mark Robinson, a spokesman for Taxpayers for Wise Transit Spending (www.WiseTransitME.org).

“Further, we know they feel very safe and secure on the existing shuttle, because only USM students can use it. With a switch to Metro, the general public will ride along. The potential problems and uncomfortable scenarios that this change may encourage are very easy for students, and their parents, to imagine."

A deal announced in August between Metro and USM would do away with a direct shuttle and its exclusivity, and saddle taxpayers with millions in new and unnecessary costs. Robinson said the bus companies are soliciting direct feedback from USM students via the email address WiseTransitME@gmail.com.

“Let’s hear what students have to say about losing these benefits, without the filter of a USM spokesman blocking out dissent," Robinson said. "Their opinions are what matter, not the corporate spin from the USM president or Metro's executive director. What do the students actually want?"

Taxpayers for Wise Transit Spending (www.WiseTransitME.org) is an alliance of bus and motorcoach companies based in the state of Maine. Its members are decades-old family businesses, and each pays significant local, state and federal taxes. The alliance has the strong support of the American Bus Association, the United Motorcoach Association, the New England Bus Association and the Business Coalition for Fair Competition.

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Taxpaying bus companies want meeting with UMaine Chancellor

Object to "migration" of USM’s mission, seek end to Metro shuttle plan

MEDIA CONTACT: WiseTransitME@gmail.com

(Portland, Maine) An alliance of taxpaying Maine bus companies has written to James Page, Chancellor of the University of Maine System, asking that “the University of Southern Maine suspend its pursuit, in league with Metro, of an expanded ‘regional transportation network.’” (LINK to letter HERE)

Joe Cyr, the owner of Old Town’s Cyr Bus Lines and a member of Taxpayers for Wise Transit Spending (TWTS), wrote to Page last month requesting a meeting, and asserting that USM’s migration into developing regional public transit policy is an inappropriate departure from its original and proper purpose of educating college students.

“We suggest that USM should adhere strictly to its mission,” Cyr wrote. “Further, we suggest that in dedicating itself to students, the university should maintain or improve transportation options for its students, not degrade them.”

A proposal by USM and Metro will end the current non-stop USM shuttle. The new plan adds stops between the Gorham and Portland campuses, thus lengthening the commute for students. Also, taxpaying providers say they’re confused by another major change. A service that had been exclusive to USM students will now be open to the general public.

“For as long as I can remember, USM has vigorously opposed having the general public ride along with students, citing serious safety concerns,” said Gregg Isherwood, owner of Custom Coach & Limousine. “The obvious question is, what led to the about face? Did students and their parents have any say in this policy reversal?”

The taxpaying bus companies also object to the cost of what USM and Metro have proposed. The current USM shuttle, provided via a public/private partnership, uses three buses to provide safe, efficient and punctual transportation. A taxpaying company provides the buses, and the service costs an estimated $390,000 per year. Metro’s plan would end the public/private partnership, and force taxpayers to foot the bill for eight new buses, with a price tag of more than $4 million. It will also cost $2 million annually to operate the proposed “Husky Line,” so just in the first year the cost to operate the new service would be an estimated $6 million. Metro claims nearly 85% of the ridership on the “Husky Line” will come from USM, yet the university will only pay 22% of the cost.

“We’re trying to alert taxpayers to the implications of Metro’s voracious appetite for more tax dollars,” said Lana Sawyer,” a TWTS member and owner of VIP Tour & Charter Bus Company. “My company does not have the contract for the USM shuttle, our competitor does. But an important principle is at stake here. The taxpayers’ money should be spent very frugally. In this case, Metro’s spending spree is buying a gold-plated solution to a problem that doesn’t even exist.”

Taxpayers for Wise Transit Spending (www.WiseTransitME.org) is an alliance of Bus and Motorcoach companies based in the state of Maine. Its members are decades-old family businesses, and each pays significant local, state and federal taxes. The alliance has the strong support of the American Bus Association, the United Motorcoach Association, the New England Bus Association and the Business Coalition for Fair Competition.

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Portland Press Herald, 12-22-17

Commentary: Bus companies oppose Portland Metro's bid for more taxpayer dollars

Portland Metro has proposed a solution to a problem that actually does not exist. (Link to Press Herald)

Cyr Bus Line, Northeast Charter & Tour Co., Custom Coach & Limousine and VIP Tour & Charter Bus Co. are united in our objection to Portland Metro’s faulty plan to seek millions more every year in local, state and federal taxpayer dollars. We also object to the University of Southern Maine’s complicity in the scheme.

Metro doesn’t pay taxes. A recent Press Herald editorial (Dec. 11) that supported Metro’s naked grab for more subsidies made ill-informed proclamations about what taxpaying bus companies cannot accomplish in the marketplace. Unfortunately, the editorial board reached its conclusions without first accepting an offer to discuss our ample ability to solve local transportation challenges efficiently and cost-effectively.

In its lack of interest, the Press Herald is matched by USM, which accepted Metro’s offer to replace an efficient shuttle service that taxpaying bus companies have provided for more than 30 years. The university did so without bothering to ask us if better and less-costly solutions are possible.

In other words, two organizations with a professed reverence for knowledge, the newspaper and the university, decided that this initiative didn’t merit a full exploration of the facts. Too bad. It will cost the taxpayers dearly.

The editorial asked, “What comes first? Supply or demand? Service or riders?” That betrays a profound lack of understanding about real world conditions. Both riders for whom USM seeks to provide service (the students) and the service itself (a nonstop shuttle exclusive to students) already exist, and have for many years. If USM wants to increase access to public transportation for students and faculty, then USM, not taxpayers, should fund the expansion. Or, simply open the current shuttle to the general public, to which, ironically, the university has been adamantly opposed for decades.

(Incidentally, USM’s mission is to educate students and provide services to facilitate that education. If it’s now pushing non-educational services for constituencies other than its students, perhaps the university should inform the people of Maine that it has a new mission.)

Consider several facts.

First, the current cost for the USM shuttle is estimated at $390,000, paid to a local, taxpaying company, unsubsidized by taxpayer dollars.

Second, the projected cost to add the Husky Line and transfer the student shuttle to Metro is at least $6 million in the first year, paid by local, state and federal taxpayers. USM, another tax-exempt entity, will pay an estimated $400,000.

Third, Metro claims that nearly 85 percent of the ridership on the Husky Line will come from USM, which will pay only 22 percent of the cost. (Guess who pays the rest?) That doesn’t include more than $4 million for new buses.

Metro estimates 400,000 boardings annually. USM boardings for the past three years are under 100,000 annually. Over the past six years USM reduced service in the evenings and cut the summer schedule completely, because of low ridership. These hard numbers should alarm taxpayers, and so should Metro’s “cook the books” claim that student ridership will magically skyrocket by a factor of four.

Finally, if increased service for students is USM’s goal, a taxpaying contractor could double the current service for an estimated $800,000. In addition, a taxpaying company buys its own buses, relieving the taxpayers of that unnecessary burden. That is a far cry from the estimated $6 million it will cost the taxpayer if Metro takes over.

USM currently offers heavily discounted Metro passes, for which demand is ridiculously low. Yet Metro proposes to give USM students and faculty 8,000 “free” passes, at the expense of the taxpayer. Yes, one slick accounting trick allows Metro to claim significantly inflated ridership numbers, thus increasing their access to taxpayer subsidies, thus allowing USM to avoid the inconvenience of seeing if the private sector might do a better job for less.

Metro proposed a solution to a problem that does not exist. Both USM and the Press Herald placed no value on fully exploring all the facts relevant to the ill-conceived proposal. Both decided that a public/private partnership wasn’t worth talking about, even though such a partnership has worked well for more than 30 years.

Well, one fact nobody can ignore. Tax time is right around the corner, and when writing checks to the town, to Maine Revenue Services and to the Internal Revenue Service, Maine taxpayers will angrily wonder why tax bills are so high. Blind obedience to expanding government agencies, without first responsibly asking hard questions, is one very unfortunate explanation.

PRESS RELEASE from United Motorcoach Association

United Motorcoach Association calls on METRO Board to Reconsider Action that Threatens Jobs and Local Small Businesses

(Alexandria, VA) Some Portland area workers could be getting coal in their holiday stockings as they are likely to be forced out of good, skilled jobs thanks to a recent decision by the Greater Portland Area Transit Authority (METRO. In addition, the action threatens the viability of locally-owned small businesses that have been providing the service to the community, supporting those local jobs.

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The United Motorcoach Association is calling for a solution that protects the ability of private motorcoach carriers to do business in Maine and support the local economy with jobs and service.

“UMA support the efforts of our members in Maine who are trying to educate the general public and Maine business owners. There is still time for the METRO Board to reverse this action,” said Stacy Tetschner, President and CEO of the United Motorcoach Association. “We ask that they weigh the unfairness of this displacement and explore formulas that would include the private sector and begin to reduce the burden on Maine’s taxpayers.”

“The type of local government action METRO proposes has serious repercussions for small businesses everywhere, not just in Portland, ME. We are talking about real people who have good jobs—drivers, mechanics, cleaners, dispatchers—losing their livelihood,” said Ken Presley, Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Affairs and Industry Relations for the United Motorcoach Association. “And if that’s not enough, as taxpayers these same people are being asked to help subsidize the very local transit that squeezed them out of their jobs and business. It’s fundamentally unfair to the workers, business, and taxpayers to replace service that requires no public subsidies and pays taxes to one that requires endless subsidies.

In the U.S., most jobs are generated and sustained by small business, and Maine is no exception. According to a recent study that relied on U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Census Bureau data, Maine was ranked as the 11th most entrepreneurial state in the country. The SBA also reports that Maine’s small businesses employ about three-fifths of Maine’s employees, representing 96.9 percent of all employers in the state.

About the United Motorcoach Association (UMA)

The United Motorcoach Association, with more than 1000 members, is the nation’s largest organization exclusively protecting and promoting the interests and welfare of private bus and motorcoach companies. Members include motorcoach companies and industry suppliers. To learn more about UMA go to their website. (www.UMA.org)

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PRESS RLEASE from American Bus Association

ABA Calls on FTA to Expand Rules for Fair Competition by Transit Operators

Washington, DC – The American Bus Association (ABA) – the industry leader advancing the North American motorcoach, travel and tour industry – urges the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to address issues over displaced operators of private scheduled bus service.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 10.19.45 PM.png

Recently, an unsubsidized private bus operator that held a contract with the University of Southern Maine to provide on-campus shuttle service for more than 20 years, lost its contract to the publicly funded Greater Portland Transit District. Unlike charter operations with the FTA’s Charter Bus rules, private scheduled service operators do not have any protection from or recourse for unfair competition by federally subsidized transit operators. Despite a statutory provision currently in place that should protect all private operators from unjust competition, federal courts have generally held there is no private right of action to bring a lawsuit, and the FTA has never established any complaint mechanism, any process for administrative relief or any restrictions on unfair competition with private operators as part of its grant criteria for recipients of federal funds.

While there are requirements for coordination and a review of existing transportation services before establishing new services to ensure the most efficient uses of taxpayer dollars, there is no requirement to consider alternatives to the displacement or replacement of existing services, particularly those operating over fixed routes.

“The FTA should act to address this loop hole as it conflicts with other statutory/regulatory provisions intended to protect private operators from unfair competition from public transit providers,” said Peter Pantuso, president & CEO of the American Bus Association. “This is bad public policy to use taxpayer dollars to compete with private sector employers, discourage private investment, harm local businesses, and artificially inflate the cost of providing a service that may adequately be offered elsewhere in the marketplace.”

ABA calls on the FTA to review these activities, establish a complaint mechanism, and alter their grant requirements to include just compensation for displaced services as well as administrative relief. With these changes, we hope to see additional protections provided under the FTA’s rules from subsidized transit operators and enable fair and equitable competition for all private bus operators.

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AMERICAN JOURNAL: Bus alliance battles to reinstall USM shuttle bidding

GORHAM — Owners of local bus lines are banding together to try and reverse the University of Southern Maine’s shift to METRO from private bus operators to shuttle students between the Gorham and Portland campuses. (FULL ARTICLE CLICK HERE)

The agreement with METRO opens up public transit for Gorham.

Private bus operators have contracted with the university for decades to transport university students. But, a METRO service begins in August 2018 when a contract with Custom Coach & Limousine, a Gorham company, expires.

The alliance of bus operators, claiming unfair competition from METRO, is upset that private companies didn’t have the opportunity to bid for the university’s shuttle service and that taxpayers’ money will subsidize the deal with METRO, the Greater Portland Transit District.

A university sophomore, Valerie Ziehler, said Tuesday afternoon while waiting inside Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus for the Custom Coach bus she likes the current bus service. She said buses are always on time and she has never experienced a problem.
— Robert Lowell, reporter, American Journal

Now, the alliance of bus operators is mounting a letter writing campaign in hopes of reversing the university’s decision. They are reaching out to political figures and the university’s campus newspaper while turning to social media to contact students.

 “My company has been providing direct shuttle service, with bike racks, between USM’s Gorham and Portland campuses for several years,” Gregg Isherwood, owner of Custom Coach, said in a recent letter to the editor of the USM Free Press.

“My company and others will be meeting with many public leaders to discuss this very unwise change in the very near future.”

Photo by The Forecaster: Some University of Southern Maine students disembark from a shuttle bus Tuesday afternoon in Gorham while others board for a return trip to the Portland campus.

Photo by The Forecaster: Some University of Southern Maine students disembark from a shuttle bus Tuesday afternoon in Gorham while others board for a return trip to the Portland campus.

AMERICAN JOURNAL: Letter to the Editor

Expanded bus service waste of taxpayer money

October 26, 2017, ACTUAL LINK HERE

Let’s say the distance from Gorham to Portland is 10 miles. Or even 15 miles, it doesn’t really matter.

Metro would have us believe that members of the general public, in Gorham and the small, outlying country towns near it, are going to drive their cars to a commuter parking lot in Gorham, wait for a bus, get on a bus and then endure the frequent stops during that last 15 miles as they make their way into Portland. Then they’ll do the same in reverse, as they return to the parking lot, get into their cars, and drive home to Buxton, or Standish, or Hollis, or Windham.

Sorry Metro, that’s not going to happen. Your multi-million dollar proposal to expand bus service, and run it every 15 minutes to Gorham and Westbrook, could not be more ill-conceived. Your buses will be empty, count on it. Legitimate public transportation has its rightful place, but what you have proposed is a truly obscene waste of taxpayer money.

Mike Soucie, Naples

PORTLAND PRESS HERALD: Letter to the Editor

Letter to the editor: Metro’s sweetheart bus deal with USM will cost taxpayers millions

December 8, 2017, ACTUAL LINK HERE

I take issue with a recent letter from USM’s Bob Stein, defending the sweetheart deal to “partner” with Metro.

If USM wanted expanded hours for its student shuttle, why didn’t the university ever request this from the taxpaying contractors who have been cost-effectively providing the service, without taxpayer subsidy, for over 40 years?

Good WiFi is important to students? Great, because that’s exactly what the students have now as part of existing contract with a taxpaying provider.

USM gets “free” access to the entire Metro system? No they won’t. Nothing is free, and taxpayers will pick up the tab. Incidentally, USM students have had heavily discounted Metro passes available for 80 cents per trip for some time now. You know how many students have been knocking down the doors to buy one? Precious few.  

In his paper-thin defense of this ill-conceived maneuver, Stein conveniently failed to mention that the taxpayers will now lose substantial revenue from the loss of excise tax, sales tax and fuel tax. Taxpaying bus companies pay all these, but Metro does not. And Metro’s lavish spending spree? Nearly $2 million in annual operating costs, plus the purchase of 7 or 8 new buses at $500,000 apiece? Millions of taxpayer dollars for private student transportation services that have never been subsidized in the past.

According to Stein, “Our students and our university will be receiving these new benefits, all for the same price we had been previously paying.” Only a PR guy would try to slip that by and hope we didn’t notice. The rest of the story, fellow Mainers, is that Metro has masterminded a scheme to load you down with millions in additional taxpayer obligations. Totally unconcerned by that, it appears USM is obviously quite tickled to go along for the ride.

Lana M. Sawyer, COO, V.I.P. Charter Coaches, Portland