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METRO announces agreement with USM to offer new expanded service for students and the public

President Glenn Cummings at METRO announcement

The Greater Portland Transit District ("METRO") joined with project partners to formally announce an agreement with the University of Southern Maine for an Unlimited Access Transit Pass Program ("U-Pass Program"). This agreement will allow for launch of the "Transit West Project" in August 2018, which includes public transit improvements in Gorham, Westbrook, Portland and South Portland.

A Fall 2017 public planning process will help METRO and the Transit West Advisory Committee finalize new routes, identify bus stops, and determine service levels including frequencies and hours of operation.

According to METRO Board President John Thompson Jr., "the Transit West Project will be the most significant and exciting expansion of public transportation in the state of Maine since the Amtrak Downeaster launched in 2001."

USM President Glenn Cummings appluaded the project.

"From USM's point of view, this is an absolute triple win," Cummings said. "This means better service, financial savings and environmental improvement. You can't get much better than that."

The Transit West Project includes three (3) major features:

1. Husky Line --- This new bus route will be a limited stop, higher speed transit service with a distinct brand. The Husky Line will introduce transit service to the Town of Gorham, connect the USM Gorham-Portland campuses, and increase the level of transit service along the William Clark Drive/Main Street corridor in Westbrook and the Brighton Avenue corridor in Portland. The Husky Line will parallel and relieve overcrowding on METRO's Route 4, which today provides transit service between and within Westbrook and Portland. With the Husky Line and a restructured Route 4 operating in tandem, daytime transit service between Westbrook and Portland will double from one bus every 30 minutes to one bus every 15 minutes.

Sample pass image2. Blue Line --- Another new bus route will directly connect northwest Portland and Westbrook with the Maine Mall area of South Portland. The Blue Line will expand transit service to key destinations like the Westbrook Community Center and the growing higher density residential developments along Spring Street. Today, a transit trip from downtown Westbrook to the Maine Mall area in South Portland takes two buses and nearly 2 hours. Starting in August 2018, the same trip will take one bus and be under 30 minutes while also relieving overcrowding on METRO's Route 5 between Portland and South Portland.

3. USM U-Pass Program --- METRO and USM have reached an agreement to provide an unlimited access transit pass program (U-Pass) for the approximately 8,000 students enrolled at USM. Like METRO's successful partnership with Portland Public Schools, the U-Pass program will provide USM students unlimited access to METRO's transit system. The U-Pass program not only provides students access to the Husky Line and travel between the two campuses, but also allows on and off-campus students access to METRO's entire transit network for all trip purposes. METRO and USM anticipate the U-Pass program will advance the following goals:

• Improve student and employee mobility and access to classes, jobs and recreation.
• Lower household cost of transportation.
• Reduce traffic congestion, carbon footprint and improve air quality.
• Improve connectivity between the USM Gorham and Portland campuses.
• Contain costs and reduce need for additional on-campus parking, allowing for better uses.

"As a community engaged university, USM is delighted that the Transit West project will not only provide substantial new benefits to our students, but also for people living in Gorham, Westbrook and other surrounding towns. This is a game changer for our university and for the entire region," said USM's President Glenn Cummings.

METRO's General Manager, Greg Jordan, stated, "While the Transit West Project involves an expansion of public transit to Gorham, it is also a major transit expansion in the urban cores of Portland and Westbrook where improved transit services are sorely needed." Mr. Jordan also said, "the USM U-Pass program has the potential to dramatically increase regional transit ridership and build a generation of transit savvy young adults who recognize that our economic prosperity and quality of life are linked to advancements in our multi-modal transportation infrastructure."

President Glenn CummingsThe Transit West Project is based on a partnership between METRO, the City of Westbrook, the Town of Gorham, the City of Portland, USM, the Maine Department of Transportation, and the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS).

Capital costs related to new buses and bus stops are estimated at $4-4.5 million and will be funded with a combination of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants, which will cover 80% of the cost and local contributions, which will cover the remaining 20%. The added annual operating cost to implement the Husky Line and Blue line is estimated to be $1.6-1.7 million. The major funding sources include federal funding from the Federal Highway Administration's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Program, USM U-Pass program revenue, new fare revenue from added ridership due to the expansion, advertising revenue, and local contributions from Gorham, Westbrook and Portland.

METRO is Maine's largest public transit agency and provides more than 1.8 million boarding per year throughout the communities of Falmouth, Freeport, Portland, South Portland, Westbrook and Yarmouth. On August 24, 2017, METRO will implement improvements to the METRO BREEZ Express Bus Service including an expansion to the Town of Brunswick.

Read the portland Press Herald coverage here.

Read the MaineBiz story here.

See the WMTW-TV story here.

See the WGME story here.