ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — The fare-free Island Explorer bus system, which did not run at all in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to operate on a limited basis this coming season.

“We intend to run Island Explorer for a full season (June 23 to Oct. 11), but it will be greatly simplified; it will look very different from our traditional service,” said Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, which operates the Island Explorer.

The Island Explorer Dick Bloom

“We don’t have everything finalized yet, but there will be far fewer routes. We believe we will still be dealing with the pandemic, so there will be strict spacing on the buses. Every other row of seats will be vacant, and only people in the same group will be allowed in the same row.”

The buses normally carry up to 43 passengers, with 30 seated and 13 standing in the aisle. During the 2021 season, there will be a limit of about 12 people.

“We will probably concentrate on routes within the park: the Park Loop Road route, a shuttle between Jordan Pond and the Hulls Cove Visitors Center, and likely there will be a route that runs from the Bar Harbor Village Green to the visitors center,” Murphy said.

The bus routes that might be eliminated this year include Eden Street, Sand Beach, Brown Mountain and Southwest Harbor.

“Right now, it looks like we will increase frequency on the routes that we do run so that hopefully we won’t have people standing around waiting for long periods of time for a bus,” Murphy said

“At this point, it does not look like there will be evening service; but again, all this is still in planning mode.”

He said the Island Explorer is expected to run its normal schedule on the Schoodic Peninsula.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, far fewer people visited Acadia this year than in recent years. But a larger percentage of those who did visit drove into the park in their own vehicles because there was no Island Explorer service.

In 2019, the Island Explorer carried 647,098 passengers.

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