Metro lands bus program for Gorham

Metro bus service is bound for Gorham in 2018. The Town Council voted Monday to back the Greater Portland Transit District's Metro in a three-year pilot plan. This Metro bus is pictured in Westbrook Monday.

Gorham riders will step onto Metro buses beginning in two years under a pilot program that also improves bus service in Westbrook.

In a special meeting Monday, Gorham town councilors voted 6-0 (Mike Phinney absent) to participate in a three-year pilot program with Metro, the Greater Portland Transit District, and in conjunction with the University of Southern Maine.

The extension of Metro to Gorham is expected to start in August 2018, hinging on a future Gorham Town Council signing a contract. In an agreement, the town of Gorham will pay Metro $35,000 annually for each of the three years in the pilot program.

“Metro is very appreciative of the Gorham Town Council’s support and excited to have Gorham as a partner in expanding public transit in southern Maine,” Greg Jordan, Metro general manager, said Tuesday.

Under the plan, those paying fares could ride the buses that would shuttle university students between its campuses in Gorham and Portland. Gorham will have one to three bus stops and the basically express service would run along either Gorham’s New Portland Road or Main Street (Route 25) to downtown Westbrook and into Portland. University students would ride Metro with a pass program, while public riders would pay  to board. The current one-way fare, for instance, from Westbrook to Portland is $1.50.

“There are several important steps ahead of us to bring the USM transit pass program and associated service improvements to life, but we look forward to working with Gorham officials, business owners and residents to craft how transit service will operate in Gorham,” Jordan said.

Metro is still negotiating a deal with the university, which has an existing contract with the private vendor Custom Coach and Limousine, located in the Gorham Industrial Park, to shuttle students.

With the extension of Metro to Gorham, bus service would step up in Westbrook.

“Riders with a trip origin or destination in Westbrook will have increased availability and options for public transit service,” said Jerre Bryant, Westbroook city manager.

Metro has plans to add a route from Prides Corner through downtown Westbrook to the Maine Mall in South Portland.

A new route could serve the Westbrook Community Center on Bridge Street. The present Metro Route 4 that serves Westbrook would be restructured and simplified, Jordan said.

Jordan said the next step is to work with the Westbrook City Council on its participation in Metro’s proposed service improvements.

“We have a Nov. 18 deadline to submit an application for federal funding through the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS),” Jordan said.

Before Monday’s Gorham Town Council meeting, Jordan said Metro would purchase seven new buses costing $500,000 each to serve the Gorham expansion. Buses would run every 30 minutes.

Town Councilor Marla Stelk made the motion to approve the bus service and Sherrie Benner, vice chairwoman of the Town Council, seconded the motion.

“I’m definitly in support of public transit,” Gorham Town Councilor Bruce Roullard said before the board voted.

Town Council Chairman Matthew Robinson said the proposal could be brought back to the board after the municipal election on Nov. 8, when Gorham will have two new Town Council members.

Gregg Isherwood, president of Custom Coach and Limousine, pointed out that the company is a taxpayer in Gorham, and he cited several concerns he had with Metro’s plan – including federal money funding a competitor. Isherwood asked the Town Council to delay a vote.

Buster Neal, interim chief business officer for the university, said there would still be opportunity for other entities to participate, such as providing buses to sporting events.

Robinson had concerns about the town’s pilot program, including ridership numbers and available public parking in downtown Gorham for those riding Metro.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Robinson said after the unanimous vote.

Metro bus service is bound for Gorham in 2018. The Town Council voted Monday to back the Greater Portland Transit District’s Metro in a three-year pilot plan. This Metro bus is pictured in Westbrook Monday.