Truth be told, I am an elitist asshole who rarely takes the bus. Never was this fact more apparent than last Friday, when I came up with the idea to spend the afternoon riding the bus — for free, thanks to the state Department of Transportation and GoMaine’s Free Fare Friday program, running through July — and to write a story about it. In other words, I thought it would be newsworthy to write an article about taking the bus.
It wasn’t. Pretty much the only remarkable parts of my experience were of an introspective nature; for example, I’ve decided that my aversion to umbrellas is stupid, and that both my sense of direction and my ability to read bus schedules are lacking. I came to these conclusions while standing on the wrong side of Congress Street in the pouring rain waiting for a bus that would eventually pass me going in the opposite direction. (But really, it’s not completely my fault — clearer signage wouldn’t kill you, METRO.)
The Maine DOT and GoMaine (the statewide commuter services agency, run by the Greater Portland Council of Governments) first offered the Free Fare Friday program in November 2007 to encourage public transit use, which resulted in a 27 percent ridership increase on those Fridays, the DOT says; numbers from this month’s campaign will be available later this summer. In the meantime, there’s one more Free Friday (July 25 — fittingly, it’s also a Portland Green Streets Day) to take advantage of — and if you plan it right, you could get a nice day trip out of the deal.
With close to 20 bus companies participating, it is possible to snag free rides on connecting buses all the way from Portland to Bangor, or to head Downeast to Ellsworth and Bar Harbor. Locally, bus travelers can get to Willard Beach (Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth is just 1.5 miles from Willard Square on foot), or visit beaches in Old Orchard and Scarborough. (This is assuming, of course, that the upcoming Free Fare Friday’s weather is more conducive to outdoor activities.)
And guess what?! For just a few dollars, all these routes are available all the time — not just on Fridays in July! Find schedules atwww.gomaine.org/bus_ferry_rail. Just remember to bring an umbrella.
PS: Transit-minded folks may want to hop a bus (or bike, or walk, or carpool, if you must) to the AAA building on Marginal Way this Friday at 11:45 am, for a “sandwich symposium” on bicycling and bike-commuting in Greater Portland, sponsored by PACTS (the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee). The panel will include the new executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, Allison Vogt; Portland Bike Commuter Meetup organizer John Brooking; and Sarah Cushman, the lead organizer of Green Streets. Get more info at pactsplan.org.