If you are not on board with Regional Transportation Program (RTP) bus service there is no time like the present to get with the program. RTP has been around since its establishment in 1976 when it was formed by combining the transportation services provided by the Portland Chapter of the American Red Cross, York-Cumberland Senior Services and the Social Services of the Greater Portland Transit District. Today, RTP is a United Way agency that provides low-cost transportation to the elderly, social service agency clients, the economically disadvantaged and persons with disabilities throughout Cumberland County with the exception of Brunswick and Harpswell.
With a fleet of 36 plus lift-equipped buses and vans, 30 agency certified drivers and a volunteer program that involves more than 30 drivers, RTP serves over 3,000 people countywide each year, providing more than a 600 rides a day to people who need to get to medical appointments, grocery shopping, work and other places.
Fast forward and you have RTP servicing 27 towns. But it is the addition of a particular service that is catching the attention of those in our local area seeking city like transportation. RTP bus service is now in its third year of operation. It is a dedicated bus route for the Lakes Region area which includes daily runs from Portland to Naples with a minimal amount of stops. Since then it has gone through a name change and expanded service. Just under a year ago it became the Lakes Region Explorer and now provides its regular and affordable public bus service to Bridgton including stops along the way in Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham and Westbrook. The Explorer is a comfortable air conditioned bus that seats 20 people, including room for two wheelchairs and a rack for those bike riders who perhaps may be seeking optional access to trails within the region.
For added convenience the Explorer also makes connections to the Metro bus system in Westbrook and ends at the Metro’s hub on Elm Street in Portland. In addition to the scheduled stops, the driver will make a few extra pickups and drop-offs providing such accommodations are safe and do not cause the bus to run behind schedule.
The service provides four-round trips between Bridgton and Portland each weekday starting in Bridgton at 6 a.m. and ending back in Bridgton at 10:15 p.m. This schedule now opens many doors for individuals who may have run out of transportation options.
A recent survey conducted by GPCOG and TOA of over 400 Lakes Region residents confirms strong support for the service. Of particular interest is one in six expressed the importance of removing barriers, the biggest being that the lack of a vehicle or reliable access to transportation creates an obstacle to employment for them. To read the full report on the survey, visit www.gpcog.org/transportation-land-use/transit/regional-passenger-survey/
This public bus service is made possible through the efforts and support of many individuals, businesses and governmental entities that work closely with RTP. Some notable developments over the past year include: Service extended to Bridgton, new branding for the Lakes Region Explorer, the creation of additional stops, and confirmation that the Town of Windham will receive a Community Development Block Grant from Cumberland County to underwrite the cost of 10-ride tickets for low to moderate income riders. Most importantly, RTP is pleased to announce that the five Lakes Region towns served by the Explorer have, again, agreed to fund the service a total of $43,624 for the fiscal year of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.
As RTP executive director Jack DeBeradandio explains, in addition to this support from the participating towns, RTP receives financial support from the Federal Transportation Administration and the Maine Department of Transportation. Also, the Community Transportation Association of America provided funds to assist in promoting this service. To this end DeBeradandio happily stated “there isn’t any foreseen cause in the near future to raise the cost of fares.” He should know because he has been with RTP for a total of 21 years. His 17 years of experience as the director of finance and administration has been advantageous in his 4-year current position as executive director.
DeBeradandio proudly added that in the first year of service, the Explorer provided 5,375 one-way trips for individuals going to work, medical appointments, shopping, school, summer camps, recreation and personal visits. During the second year of service which ended December 2015, the Explorer provided 6,462 trips representing a 20 percent increase. With additional promotional efforts and resources, he projects that the annual trips will increase to more than 8,500 in the current calendar year. When asked about the overall success of this program, DeBeradandio replied with much enthusiasm, “We are very pleased with the support and commitment received by the five participating municipalities. This coupled with the generous contributions such as those recently made by the John T. Gorman Foundation of $15,000 and a $15,000 gift from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation exemplify RTP’s shared importance.”
Along with this transportation option being economical it is also ecological. Utilizing RTP’s hybrid-fueled bus, the service promotes energy and environmental conservation by reducing the dependence on single occupancy vehicles, subsequent fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The Explorer also helps to reduce congestion on the heavily traveled Route 302 corridor and reduces transportation costs for the riders while providing access to the fixed route system in Portland. At its annual meeting in June, RTP received a Recognition Award from the Greater Portland Council of Governments for its participation in this new public bus service.
Located at 127 St. John Street in Portland, RTP runs routes across Cumberland County each day, doing door-to-door rider pickups and drop-offs. Additional information on schedules, stops and fares they can be obtained by calling 774-2666 or visit them at www.rtprides.org.