Recently, we considered how rising rental prices in the city of Portland have prompted more people making a move to Southern Maine to eye affordable rentals outside of the city limits. Many newcomers to the rental market have found living in Portland’s surrounding communities fits their needs perfectly. Still, for some there can be concerns about staying connected – to the city’s culture, commerce, and employers.
But growing options for public transportation indicate that settling down outside Southern Maine’s urban center doesn’t have to mean disconnecting from all it has to offer. Quite the contrary – renters in Greater Portland are uncovering the advantages, from convenience to cost-efficiency, of being a commuter from Lisbon, Yarmouth, Westbrook, Biddeford – and beyond.
Connecting Students & Workers
Support for more transit options in Southern Maine has helped make Greater Portland a unique region made up of diverse but linked neighborhoods. Public transportation connects students to colleges and employees to job opportunities. Area employers know that better, more affordable transportation means an expanded labor force, which has made the mission of connecting Portland with its surrounding neighborhoods a priority.
It helps that Portland itself is an extremely walkable city. Those arriving via bus, train, ferry – even cruise ship – are welcome when they arrive. “If you think of a bus (or trolley, or subway) as a connection between neighborhoods, and work on developing a number of neighborhood hubs it’s a pretty appealing vision,” said Carrie Yardley, a lawyer who lives in Yarmouth and travels to Portland an average of twice a week. Yardley largely connects with clients digitally, so she doesn’t have to spend hours and hours a week on the road. But she uses public transportation whenever possible, and said she is surprised more people don’t do the same. When she does set a meeting, clients are more than willing to set meeting times that work with public transportation schedules.
No Car in Southern Maine? Get On Board
Even for rural residents, auto-abstinence can be convenient, economical, and social, and it makes sense environmentally. With Southern Maine’s growing transportation options, keeping the car in the driveway (or not having one at all) is a viable option. It’s also a minor but promising trend. Today’s consumers embrace on-demand car services (Uber launched in Portland in 2014 and has since expanded to other communities; Lyft began expansion to Maine this year), and some experts have pointed to a rising number of younger drivers putting off car purchases.
This year, when her mother was facing life without driving, Yardley challenged herself to a car-free season to understand what someone without the option to drive would experience. “Here in Greater Portland, I learned you can live without a car,” she said. She uncovered some hidden advantages as well — saving money, for instance, on parking and gas. She used just single tank during the two-month experiment, “mostly on a trip to Vermont.” Using public transportation means drop-offs aren’t always at the door, of course, but she said the time saved finding a parking space would have been lengthier than the walk. Besides, she added, “A few blocks never hurt anyone.”
Growing Options for Maine Commuters
These Southern Maine commuter options will get you there and back – to work, to the mall, or to an evening dinner and a show – faster and more comfortably than ever.
The Metro BREEZ, a commuter bus service, which started in 2016 through an agreement between the Portland Metro system, Freeport, Yarmouth and the Maine DOT, recently expanded its area from Portland to Brunswick with stops in between. For Yardley, it’s ideal for Yarmouth-Portland trips. She uses the BREEZ regularly, citing the price, the amount of time to get to her destination, and the available Wi-Fi. It’s affordable, at $3 dollars a one-way trip (slightly less for a multi-trip pass), and routes are convenient to the city’s transit hubs that connect riders with buses, Amtrak and airport connections. The BREEZ offers trips later in the day as well to accommodate those heading to the city for dinner or an event.
Those considering calling the Saco-Biddeford area home can take advantage of ZOOM, a commuter bus service that is operated by ShuttleBus and partially funded by the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine Department of Transportation. The shuttle makes trips from Saco, Biddeford or Old Orchard Beach to Portland expedient and convenient. Commuters won’t have to worry about traffic to and from, and ZOOM trips are comfortable and conducive to getting some work done (or squeezing in a nap) on the way.
The Lakes Region Explorer, is available for those seeking a direct line to the city from Bridgton, Casco, Windham, Raymond, or Westbrook. Students and other commuters traveling from Gorham, Westbrook and Portland will have The Husky Line as a travel option next year. Slated for launch in the summer of 2018, The Husky Line will serve the travel needs of students or employees of USM or anyone in the communities along its route. It will also cut time for a trip from Westbrook to the Maine Mall to an agreeable 30 minutes.
For those working outside of the city, commuting has long been a favored way to travel for many employers. GO MAINE was established just for that reason. Sponsored by the Maine DOT and Maine Turnpike Authority, GO MAINE creates customized commuter programs for employers across Maine. It helps commuters find carpool options and offers emergency drive-home guarantees by picking up the cab fare when workers need to leave early or work late. Employees taking part in the program enjoy benefits that range from an expanded labor market to fewer parking needs.