A new and inexpensive public bus service in Thomaston and Rockland is available to anyone who doesn’t—or doesn’t wish to—drive their own car.
Called DASH, this shuttle bus is not unlike a trolley system that operated in the area generations ago. Between 7am and 4:50pm, the shiny red buses make scheduled stops in a continuous loop from the Wal-mart parking lot in Thomaston to Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport. Buses have a lift for wheelchairs.
For St. George residents, the free Neighbor-to-Neighbor ride service, in private cars, can connect with a DASH bus, allowing the driver to return home, run errands and pick up their rider later in the day. The bus service was only launched on May 1st, and ridership is still light, but already Neighbor to Neighbor is starting to receive requests for rides to a DASH bus stop.
Jane Matthews of St. George recently gave the bus a try, and had this to say afterward: “I rode up to the hospital, had the 10 minute break and we headed back down. I wanted to get some bagels and shop at the Good Tern, so [bus driver Minna Grotton] saved me quite a walk by dropping me right in front of the co-op!”
Steffany Pyle, community engagement facilitator for Mid-Coast Public Transportation, said there are many rural residents who do not drive, and even some who do, who can take advantage of public transportation. You save the cost, stress and environmental impact of driving your own car, and you can ride the bus for $2. A day pass is $5, and a punch ticket for a dozen rides is $20. For $50, you can buy a monthly pass, and there are discounts for riders over 60, as well as for someone with a physical disability.
The bus will travel up to three-quarters of a mile off route to pick up someone unable to reach a bus stop, so long as the delay doesn’t push things off schedule.
Pyle said Waldo County has had public bus service for 30 years, and Knox County had a similar service in the past. She hopes DASH will succeed where its predecessors failed. Funding comes from the Federal Transit Administration, as well as state transportation funds, local matches, grants and donations.
“We’re figuring out what stops are working, what’s not. It’s an ongoing process,” Pyle said.
Matthews, who is a “proud owner” of a monthly bus pass, praised the service: “My southbound (bus) had picked up a woman in a wheelchair at Pen Bay and dropped her right at her apartment in the South end. She is a frequent rider. The wheelchair exit was efficient and without any catches, thanks to the great vehicle and experienced driver.”
Matthews hopes the DASH experiment is a success. “Of course we all have dreams of weekend hours, expanded weekday hours and expanded routes or connections to other systems.”
The DASH bus service can be reached at 338-4769, or midcoastpublictransportation.org; Neighbor to Neighbor can be contacted at 691-7069, or firstname.lastname@example.org.