The Bus and I
Writing this article on public bus transportation in Portland isn’t my first experience with the system. Living in Saco and having had a job for a time in the Munjoy Hill area of Portland, I’ve done my fair share of taking the Zoom bus from the nearest park-and-ride lot to avoid driving on the turnpike, and then tooling around Maine’s “big city” on local bus lines when I had Portland errands to run and my feet weren’t feeling up to long walks and hilly streets.
But a commuter line that runs during morning and evening rush hours from Saco and Biddeford, aside from not being any new thing to me, hardly helps the average Portlander to better understand how it feels to use their bus system locally.
And so I did a little hands-on experience myself in March, to see how a little travel between Congress Street and the Maine Mall would work out. I admit, I opted for a somewhat lazy escape hatch by having my husband pick me up from the Maine Mall to return to Saco. Sue me.
The Zoom bus to Portland was uneventful, as it has always been for me.
Once I got to Monument Square, I had 15 minutes to kill waiting for the No. 1 Congress Street bus to get up the hill. It was cold, but that’s my fault for not dressing in enough layers for the occasion.
The bus arrived promptly at 9:07, but upon getting on the bus, I realized I did not know my exact stop, so I had to look at the street numbers to make sure I didn’t overshoot 73 Congress St. The bus turns off Congress Street before getting there, so I ended up getting off and walking. (Turns out the bus does a loop that would have eventually dropped me in front of my destination. Oh, well.)
After having a tasty breakfast, it was time for the next leg of the journey, heading down to Elm Street to catch the No. 5 to the mall. I had neglected to get times for the No. 1, so things started going downhill. With no bus in sight and realizing I was 15 minutes’ walk from Elm, I headed off on foot. With my 35 extra pounds of postpartum weight, Munjoy Hill was a killer. I got to Elm five minutes later than expected and had to wait a half-hour for the next bus. Fortunately, I could kill time at the Portland Public Market.
Once I boarded it, the No. 5 wasn’t too bad of an experience aside from my seatmate across the aisle who was having a rather lively conversation with herself. Notables of the No. 5 are that it stops at the Portland Transportation Center and on Congress Street across from the Jetport. At the end, I was dropped off by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles office in the Maine Mall.
The entire process of leaving Saco and ending up at the Mall, including my breakfast stop, took close to 3.5 hours. But it only cost me $5.50 and that includes the $3 from Saco to Portland on the Zoom bus. Obviously, a Portlander would save both money and time, and not missing the No. 5 would have also shaved a lot of time off my trip.
Not nearly as convenient as using the car, but I did get some reading done and it was one less car spewing exhaust into the Maine air. Also on the upside, the Metro workers I encountered were definitely friendlier than their counterparts I have dealt with in larger cities. I wouldn’t recommend the Metro as a lifestyle choice to most people, but it’s worth using.