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The Future of Transit


Who is partnering to support this project?


GPCOG is the regional planning agency and economic development district for the greater Portland, Maine region. Since 2018, GPCOG has staffed and administered PACTS.

PACTS is the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the greater Portland region. In that role, PACTS convenes municipal, regional, state, and federal stakeholders to plan, fund, maintain, and improve the region's transportation system. PACTS serves 18 member municipalities and seven transit providers—Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit, Casco Bay Island Transit District, Greater Portland Transit District (METRO), Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, Regional Transportation Program, City of South Portland Bus Service, and York County Community Action Corporation.

Key stakeholders will guide the project through a project advisory group. The group will provide input into the study and serve as a sounding board for study recommendations. In addition to each of the transit agencies listed above, the project advisory group includes representatives from:

  • Maine Department of Transportation

  • Maine Turnpike Authority

  • Maine Health

  • Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce

  • Southern Maine Community College

  • Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission

  • United Way of Southern Maine

  • University of Southern Maine

Individuals serving as GPCOG transportation leaders and representing housing and social justice initiatives.

To support the study, GPCOG hired a team of consultants led by Nelson\Nygaard to carry out the technical work alongside the stakeholder and community engagement. Nelson\Nygaard is a national transit planning firm that has done similar projects in other places, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and ASG Planning will be supporting the team with engagement and outreach efforts. The consultant team will help GPCOG take a fresh perspective on the network and provide the resources needed for this once-in-a generation effort.

Why do we need Transit Together? 


Now more than ever, the greater Portland region is changing. People are living and working in different places. Traffic patterns have changed. Some streets are more congested. There are new mobility options available, like ridesharing, that are adding more vehicles on the road and changing people’s expectations for convenient travel. As a result of all of these changes, some places need more service than ever, others don’t need as much as they used to.

Transit Together will set the course for the region’s future by transforming the system into a new network that is easy to use for everyone, regardless of experience with the system, language, or ability. Accomplishing this requires creating a unified transportation network that can be used for all types of trips.

How do Greater Portland’s transit providers coordinate today?


For many years, we have heard the calls for better coordination between the region's seven transit providers.  Many successful efforts have already been advanced. For example:

  • DiriGO Pass: With one common fare product in your wallet or on your mobile device, you can take trips on three different transit providers (BSOOB, METRO, and SPBS), making travel across the region more seamless.

  • Transfers and Connections:  METRO, BSOOB, SPBS, and the Lakes Region Explorer serve downtown Portland. METRO, BSOOB, and SPBS also all serve the Maine Mall, though not all at the same stops. METRO connects to ferry service at the Casco Bay Terminal and rail service at the Portland Transportation Center. BSOOB connects to rail service at the Saco Transportation Center.

  • The Southern Maine Transit Tracker This mobile app allows riders to look up real-time transit arrival information for METRO, SPBS, and Casco Bay lines.

  • Accessible Transit: Riders qualifying for complementary paratransit services can travel across the METRO and SPBS service areas on one RTP van.

How could service be improved?


Transit Together is designed to be comprehensive and transformative. To develop an improved regional network, we'll look at:

  • Bus Routes – We will look for ways to make bus routes more useful, make sure they go to important destinations, and are easier to understand. This might include creating new routes and changing existing ones.

  • Schedules – Schedules can be difficult to understand, in part because it is hard to simplify complicated information. An improved service will be easier to explain, easier to understand, and easier to use. This may involve changes to make the schedules—both in print and online—easier to understand, providing schedule information at bus stops, and using colors and symbols to explain and differentiate types of services.

  • Bus stops –A part of this project will be to make sure it strikes the right balance between easy access to service and ensuring service is fast and reliable. We’ll also analyze if stops are in locations that are safe to access by walking and biking, and if they have appropriate signals, signage, and lighting.

  • Frequencies – Frequent service is convenient service. If transit comes often and consistently, service is predictable and reliable, so people can just show up and ride. But operating more frequent service is more expensive. We will look at when and where increased frequencies can make the greatest impact.

  • Service hours – Transit needs to be available when people want to use it. This means we may need to rethink our assumptions about who is riding transit, where they're going, and when they'd like to go. For example, traditional nine-to-five office commuters may be taking transit at lower rates than they had in the past. On the other hand, to better serve service workers or recreational trips, service may need to operate later at night.

  • Information – Riders need to be able to understand the service if they are going to use it. Making service easier to understand requires improving how information is produced and shared, like signage that is easier to see and has more information, or bus routes with more logical names and numbers.

  • Transfer Locations and Accessibility – With a few exceptions, like Maine Mall most transfers between routes happen at the Metro Pulse. While this makes sense for some travelers, other riders don’t need to – or don’t want to - go into the Portland peninsula to complete their trip. Transit Tomorrow will look at where and when people transfer between bus routes and other services, so transfers are as safe and convenient as possible, and the entire system can be used as one seamless network.

How do other US regions with multiple transit providers coordinate transit service?


Many metropolitan areas throughout the US are served by multiple transit systems. These transit providers may have different or overlapping service areas and service types, but any agency receiving federal funds must participate in the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to coordinate service and funding. In Greater Portland, our region’s transit providers work with the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS).

Regions such as Seattle WA, Phoenix AZ, Wake County NC and others have transit providers that work together through the MPO to coordinate fares, schedules, transfers, branding and customer information to provide a more seamless experience for transit riders. Some areas have broader partnerships where agencies work together “behind the scenes” to share administrative, planning, driver training or other tasks. These partnerships often result in efficiencies that can be reinvested in higher levels of service and/or more consistent transit performance across a region. Transit Together will consider ways in which transit providers in Greater Portland might partner to make service more seamless for riders in our region.

How will Transit Together address equity?


Transit riders are often disproportionately low-income, people of color and/or older adults, and reside in households without access to automobiles. Transit Together has conducted a market analysis to identify the areas in the Portland region where relatively large segments of these populations live and where the demand and need for transit services is strong. A goal of the study is to better align transit services with these areas of high demand and to better connect people who rely on public transportation with jobs, services, education, grocery stores and other opportunities. Transit Together is also focused on making transit service easier to understand, faster, and more reliable for transit riders across the Portland region.

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