Tired of wrestling with Deering Oaks park traffic congestion just so you can pick up a bunch of broccoli and a quart of local Greek yogurt?

The Portland Farmers’ Market is about to make your Saturday shopping trip easier. Every Saturday this August, the market will offer a free parking shuttle running from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., peak market hours.

Saco-based Good Times Shuttle will pick up farmers market customers from the bus stop shelter at the large Park ‘n Ride lot on Marginal Way — across from Franklin Arterial — and drop them off by the Deering Oaks castle, home of the Tiqa Café. Shuttles to Deering Oaks will run every half-hour beginning at 9 a.m., with the last shuttle leaving at 12:30 p.m.

The return shuttles will run on the quarter-hour beginning at 9:15 a.m. The last trip back to the Marginal Way lot will leave at 12:45 p.m. This summer’s shuttle is a trial run.

Fans of the Saturday farmers market have long complained about the lack of parking at Deering Oaks. This summer, the situation has been made worse by the closure of the parking lot next to the Deering Oaks park castle because of construction.

“Just like everywhere in Portland, the parking is really tight,” said Hanne Tierney of Cornerstone Farm in Palmyra, who is president of the Portland Farmers’ Market Association. “We’re lucky in that we’re centrally located and we have a whole lot of folks who walk to market, but we definitely have limitations because of limited parking.”

Tierney said farmers are concerned they’re losing business because the congestion in the park on Saturdays keeps potential customers away. It was one of the farmers, she said, who suggested the idea of a shuttle. Tierney said she discussed the idea with national experts, who told her similar programs have been successful at other summer markets across the country.

Tierney said that in addition to the new shuttle program, the market has changed its setup to ease the flow of foot traffic and make the space feel less crowded.

Mary Ellen Chadd of Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth was tasked with researching and organizing the shuttle program.

“I have heard some locals say that they don’t go to the market,” Chadd said. “And then on event days, sometimes there will be two or three events going on at the same time. There will be a T-ball game and a football game and there will be an arborists’ event. Sometimes we do see a drop in sales because people can’t get here.”

Chadd said the population using the park has changed in recent years as well, with “tons of young families” bringing their kids to enjoy the playground and splash pool while they shop for food.

“It’s a destination,” she said, “and we have to figure out a way that everyone can enjoy it.”

The nearly 40 farmers who participate in the Saturday market are paying for the new 14-seat shuttle. If it’s successful this year, the program may be expanded in the future.

Chadd said one possibility is hiring more shuttles to run from two different parking lots every 15 minutes. She said she’d also like to see more communication with other groups that use the park, so that on heavy use days they could hire extra shuttles.

“Potentially we could stop at underserved neighborhoods where people don’t have transportation,” Chadd said. “We could stop at senior centers where people aren’t as mobile.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.