Maine is a big state with a small population that’s fairly spread out. That’s the reason, we are told, that mass transit won’t work here.

But a recent report from Concord Coach Lines turns that wisdom on its head.

The private bus company that connects Augusta, Bangor, Lewiston and Portland to Boston and beyond keeps setting ridership records.  The company reported more than 640,000 passenger trips in 2018, a 50 percent increase in the last decade. It has regularly added routes over the years, and has found passengers who are enthusiastic about climbing on board. It’s not just a service for people who can’t afford to own a car, but also includes a growing number of people who could drive but choose to leave their cars at home and take the bus.

As the state finally gets serious about responding to climate change, the Concord Coach Lines example should be studied. Motor coaches have the smallest per-passenger emissions contribution of any form of transportation, so making transit work in Maine will be essential to meeting the state’s aggressive carbon-reduction goals.

Why is Concord thriving in Maine? There are a number of answers.

The fare price is reasonable, even without state or federal subsidy (unless you count the millions of dollars spent to maintain the highways that it uses). The buses run frequently – 28 times a day between Boston and Portland – conveniently fitting in most people’s schedules. Most of the routes are express service, with few or no stops, guaranteeing efficient trips.


And it doesn’t hurt that the most common destination is Boston, either South Station or Logan Airport. City traffic and expensive parking in Boston make driving a less attractive option, whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure.

And it’s clear that Concord takes customer service seriously, making the trip as comfortable and pleasant as possible, with friendly drivers, movies and other passenger amenities.

The same principles are at work in local transit system like Greater Portland Metro, which is also breaking ridership records thanks to the addition of new routes and free Wi-Fi on some of the newest buses.

Believing the conventional wisdom that transit can’t work in Maine results in bad land-use choices. Parking is expensive to build and drives up the cost of land that can be used for more productive purposes. That pushes affordable housing away from employment centers, into areas that can be reached only by private cars.

But the growth of Concord Coach Lines and Metro shows that it doesn’t have to be that way. Even in Maine, more people will ride transit if the service is convenient, reliable and affordable.


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