WATERVILLE — The Kennebec Valley’s public transportation agency will try out a new “Cultural Explorer” bus service this weekend to get people from across the region to events in Waterville.

It it’s successful, offering regional buses for events may become a regular occurrence.

The Kennebec Explorer, the public bus operated by the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, will be running routes all day and into the night to get people into downtown Waterville for Maine Craft Weekend, Harvest Fest and Festival at the Falls. The weekend features craft exhibitions, live concerts and outdoor food and games.

KVCAP is working with Waterville Creates!, the arts consortium sponsoring the weekend’s events, to provide the service.

It is the first time the Explorer has offered weekend and evening buses, said Jim Wood, director of transportation at KVCAP. The bus normally runs during daytime hours and only on weekdays.

“We’re just trying to offer a safe, convenient and affordable way to access these events,” Wood said.

KVCAP might use the service as a template for regular bus service to take people to cultural events in communities across the Kennebec Valley.

“It’s a very exciting project,” Wood said. “We’ve had requests for it in the past and had enough interest to pull a pilot project together and see how it goes.”

Buses will run on Saturday and Sunday with inbound service into Waterville from eight communities.

The Explorer will operate three separate routes focused on community clusters — Gardiner-Augusta, Winthrop-Manchester-Belgrade, and Madison-Skowhegan-Fairfield. There also will be transportation within Waterville, with stops at the Colby Museum of Art, Railroad Square Cinema, the Waterville Opera House and the Head of Falls park.

Bus runs start at 9 a.m. Saturday except for the Winthrop route, which will start at 9:15 a.m., with the last bus leaving Waterville at 10 p.m. Service on Sunday starts at 11 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. in Winthrop with the final buses leaving from the city at 3 p.m. Return trips are scheduled every few hours to take people back home or pick up new riders to come to Waterville.

One-way trips into the city will cost $3 and trips within Waterville cost $1.

Getting to cultural events in the region, frequently held on weekends, can be a real challenge for people who don’t drive or don’t have access to a vehicle, said Dick Dyer, of Waterville Creates!

“A lot of people are place-bound. They would like to come out to things, but they can’t,” he said.

Others might just not want to drive at night, or they would prefer to relax and have a beer or glass of wine with dinner without worrying about having to get behind the wheel afterward.

“There are all kinds of reasons people decide to stay at home,” Dyer said. “These vans provide an excellent alternative for them.”

Although this weekend’s focus is bringing people into Waterville for Maine Craft Weekend, the routes could be adjusted for service at other festivals and cultural events throughout the region.

“It’s a very important project. We’re very excited about the possibility of this becoming a regular service,” Dyer said.

The Kennebec Explorer was launched in 2011 with routes up the Kennebec Valley, from Gardiner to Waterville, and connecting people to shopping, medical offices and hospitals and social services. A year later, KVCAP added the Somerset Explorer with a local Skowhegan service and a route that connected Skowhegan to Norridgewock, Anson and Madison.

In the four years since it started, annual ridership on the Explorer has more than doubled from 44,000 in 2011 to 94,000 last year, Wood said.

So far, demand for the service this weekend hasn’t been as strong as he had hoped, but Wood said it might pick up over the weekend.

“I wish it would be a little bit more, but we have had some calls,” Wood said. “We’re hoping over the next couple days we can arrange some interest.”

People who are interested in using the service this weekend are asked to call 800-542-8227 or 859-1500 so the operators can gauge demand.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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