Letting Portlanders ride the city buses for free on Fridays throughout December is the latest attempt by the Greater Portland Transit District to lure people out of their cars and onto the bus. “Free Fare Fridays” lets commuters test the mass-transit waters without shelling out the usual buck-twenty-five, although it’s doubtful that fare prices are the chief obstacle to ridership.
Largely, Metro’s current ridership appears to consist of schoolchildren, the disabled, and people who can’t or don’t want to afford cars, with a smattering of people whose presence looks court-mandated. Chances are the vast majority of these people aren’t riding to reduce the size of their carbon footprints, but because they have no other way to get where they need to be.
Metro’s most recent survey reports it gave 1.4 million rides in 2005. That sounds like a lot, but it works out to about 1900 daily roundtrips for all eight routes.
A ride on the Metro can be confusing, smelly, and long, but occasionally you luck out and find a clean seat next to a fragrance-free passenger. It’s undeniably better for the environment and your wallet than driving a car is, and it can be a great place to people watch.
On a recent bus ride into the Old Port I witnessed an endearing portrait of the mother-daughter dynamic. While the young mom paid the fare her little girl burst out of a stroller two sizes too small and fell flat on her face. The wee one screeched at the top of her lungs, of course. She looked like she could use a hug, but instead she got a hanky to wipe her tear-induced snots. Then she flicked the handkerchief locker-room style at her apathetic mother’s face.
You don’t get this kind of entertainment in your beat-up Volvo.
By its very nature the bus travels an indirect route and stops every few minutes. This is the bus’s most innate and unappealing characteristic. On the Metro it takes roughly 35 to 40 minutes to get from Portland’s North Deering neighborhood to the Old Port. That works out to be about 8 mph.
“Free Fare Fridays” will likely go down as a nice gift to current Metro riders. With the added stress that the holidays bring, it’s unlikely people will celebrate TGIF by doubling the time of their commute.
Find out more about the Metro’s “Free Fare Friday” and other participating transportation agencies at GoMaine.org.