October 15, 2012

Somerset County gets thrice-weekly bus service by Thanksgiving

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN -- Public transportation is coming to Somerset County.

click image to enlarge

The planned Somerset Explorer bus routes.

Staff graphic by Stacy Blanchet


Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Skowhegan local route

* Skowhegan Chamber of Commerce -- Departures at 8:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

* Riverside Terrace senior housing, two stops

* MRI Drive

* Ice Cream Shoppe, North Avenue

* West Front Street residence

* Indian Ridge/Long Meadows Apartments

* Redington-Fairview General Hospital

* Kennebec Behavioral Health, Commerce Drive

* DHHS Career Center

* Hannaford

* Walmart

* Skowhegan Chamber of Commerce

Madison-Anson-Norridgewock route

* Skowhegan Chamber of Commerce -- Departures at 7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m.

* The Meadows, Madison

* Park Wood Drive, Anson

* Anson Town Office

* Hidden Acres/Pine Wood, Madison

* Norridgewock municipal parking lot

* Skowhegan Chamber of Commerce

Fixed bus routes, three days a week, will connect Skowhegan, Madison, Anson and Norridgewock beginning before Thanksgiving, according to James Wood, the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program's transportation director.

Based on the success of the Move More Kids transportation program for summer recreation and the Kennebec Explorer bus route connecting Gardiner, Augusta, Waterville and Fairfield, the Somerset Explorer will stop at shopping centers, medical facilities, community service organizations and elderly and low-income housing projects.

"We clearly heard from our riders that there is a need for a year-round system," Woods told Skowhegan selectmen last week. "The longer we run this every year, we're starting to see more and more people taking advantage of the bus services."

Wood said he also will visit selectmen in the other towns as he seeks local contributions to match federal money to meet the $104,000 projected operating budget for the year. Along with bus fares to offset costs, contributions are being sought through private businesses, area economic development organizations and community service groups.

Bus service will operate Monday, Wednesday and Friday. All bus trips will begin and end at the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce's downtown kiosk.

A Skowhegan bus route will have five runs a day starting at 8:30 a.m. and make 12 stops including those at apartment complexes, the hospital, Kennebec Behavioral Health, the state career center, the Dollar Tree, the Hannaford supermarket and Walmart.

A Madison, Anson and Norridgewock bus will make three runs a day starting at 7:30 a.m and will make six stops on that route.

Wood said surveys of riders using the summer Move More Kids shuttle showed that adults were using the service as well. He said people climbed aboard to go shopping, get to work, have lunch at a restaurant or to just get out of the house during the warm days of summer.

Wood said each of the system buses will be equipped for wheelchair access.

"People were using it for everything that you use public transit for," Wood told Skowhegan selectmen.

Costs are:

* One way within one community: $1

* Travel between towns: $1.25

* Children younger than 12 with an adult: free

He said the Somerset Explorer program is based on other models run in Bar Harbor, the southern Maine coast and a shuttle connecting Sugarloaf and Saddleback mountains, called the Mountain Explorer.

"The long-range goal is that is somebody can come to Maine and travel anywhere within Maine without having to have a car by tying these systems together," he said. "We're hoping Somerset Explorer can be the next strain in that development."

He said the idea next year is to connect the Somerset service to Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield and ultimately to hospitals and colleges in Waterville and Augusta as well as to the VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus.

Doug Harlow -- 612-2367


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