City's 2019 Metro bill up 20.4 percent

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PORTLAND — Westbrook will pay $774,449, or 20.4 percent more for Metro bus service next year because of increased service in the community and a change in the way the Greater Portland Transit District is figuring communities’ share of public transit costs.   

The Greater Portland Transit District Board of Directors is expected by February to approve an $11.4 million budget for fiscal year 2019, along with how much the communities of Westbrook, Portland and Falmouth will pay for Metro service.

In 2019  the three communities will be charged not by revenue mile – the amount of miles buses travel in a community – but by revenue hour – the amount of time service takes, according to Greg Jordan, Metro general manager.

How fare revenue is applied to each community is also changing. Fare revenue used to go “into a big pot,” Jordan said, but now will be based on the ridership patterns in each community. Projected revenue generated in Westbrook, for example, reduces the city’s local contribution.

Jordan said he hopes the new system will encourage local municipal officials to work with Metro to make transit service more efficient in the communities.

“What both of these do is incentivize people to make improvements to the system and reduce the burden on the taxpayer,” he said.

All three communities are on board with the changes.

The Westbrook City Council, with no discussion, approved its $774,449 Metro bill Nov. 19.

Jordan said the three communities have a right to reject their allocations, something that he doesn’t recall ever happening before- within 30 days of receiving the preliminary numbers. The deadline would have been Dec. 1

On Nov. 14, the Falmouth Town Council reviewed but didn’t take action on its $179,941 Metro bill.

“I will be supporting this, because I have complete … trust in the budget they have put together and the competency in Metro,” Falmouth Councilor Hope Cahan, a member of Greater Portland Transit Board of Directors, said at the meeting.

Jordan said Portland generally does not formally act on the Metro allocation.

Much of 20.4 percent, or $158,274, increase in Westbrook’s contribution was due to increased programs and costs, as well as the 64 percent increase in Metro service in the city. The Transit West project in Westbrook and Gorham introduced Metro’s Route 3,  connecting the Riverton section of Portland through Westbrook to the Maine Mall in South Portland, and the Husky Line,  connecting the University of Southern Maine campuses in Portland and Gorham. The project was funded by federal grants, as well as contributions from Westbrook, Portland and Gorham. Gorham is paying $35,000 a year for three years to get the Transit West project up and running.

Portland’s 2.8 percent, or $77,856 increase, is also due to increased programs and costs, which can be tied to the Transit West project to a lesser extent. Portland City Manager Jon Jennings said he had no concerns with Portland’s $2.7 million allocation.

“I am good with that. We have to pay our fair share so long as it is our fair share,” he said.

Falmouth will pay $179,941, or 8.9 percent, more in 2019 than 2018, largely due to the phasing out of a federal grant that was received close to a decade ago to launch Metro Route 7, which services Route 1 and select trips to Town Landing Market and Ocean View Retirement Community.

While much of Metro’s public transit improvements were focused on Westbrook in 2018, Falmouth and downtown Portland will be focuses in 2019. Metro lists working with the town of Falmouth to improve transit service there as one of its top objectives for 2019.

Metro will also “re-imagine and restructure” how public transit on the Portland peninsula can be improved. Improvements will be implemented in mid-2020. In addition, Metro will look at ways to take the Metro BREEZ, which services Brunswick, Freeport and Yarmouth from pilot project to a permanent part of the system.

“Those conversations are just beginning. We want to see how we can improve the frequency of service and look at innovative ways to help the more outlaying areas to increase ridership,” Jordan said of the conversations in Falmouth.

Staff writer David Harry contributed to this story

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews

The Route 1 bus loop on the Portland peninsula is one of Metro’s focus areas for 2019.

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