Transportation Access & Cost in Washington County
Workforce Transit a Challenge in Washington County
In Washington County, many working-age adults are unemployed or underemployed because they do not have reliable transportation to commute to regional employment centers. Limited public transportation service is available in Washington County, but it is operated primarily to deliver social service clients to their appointments and thus does not adequately meet the larger business needs of the region.
The challenge here is to examine how existing public transportation services and carpooling activities could be restructured and improved to better connect the potential workforce in Washington County with available jobs.
Sun Rides Transit at the Washington Hancock Community Agency
Washington Hancock Community Agency (WHCA), operator of Sun Rides Transit, adheres to the traditional non-profit social service agency model, as do the majority of rural public transit operators in the US. It receives federal public transit funding, but its primary mission is to provide transportation for MaineCare recipients and other contracted clients of state and federal social service agencies.
All Sun Rides Transit routes open to the general public are “demand-response,” meaning that each ride request must be scheduled 24-48 hours in advance and the transit agency provides door-to-door transit service, similar to a taxi ride, from the client’s home to each scheduled appointment and back home again. WHCA operates a fleet of buses and vans, and also recruits, trains and reimburses a cadre of volunteer drivers to cover the large geographical distances between its clients’ homes and service destinations. Some clients are allowed to drive themselves to medical and social service appointments, and receive a mileage-based reimbursement from WHCA.
West's Bus Service
West's Transportation operates the other public transit service in Washington County. This incorporated firm has adopted a public-private partnership model. It receives federal transit funds to operate a daily fixed-route (i.e., scheduled) public service between Calais and Bangor and back via US-1 and US-1A, as well as several smaller intercity fixed routes. It also markets its services to social service agencies (particularly for the longer trips to Ellsworth and Bangor). Thus the ridership on West's Transportation routes is a mix of general public and contracted agency clients. Any revenues in excess of operating expenses generate corporate profits.
The general public is theoretically free to schedule rides with WHCA, although less than six percent of the current riders are unsubsidized, fare-paying customers. The average working person cannot use Sun Rides as a commuter service, for several reasons:
- general-public riders are taken on a space-available basis only, so even a ride scheduled well in advance will be bumped if the transit vehicle can be filled to capacity with contracted clients;
- unsubsidized fares are too high for low-wage workers to use the service on a daily basis;
- demand-response systems often serve rural communities just one day a week, with fluctuating departure and arrival times.
Fixed-route transit such as that provided by West's Transportation is much more predictable and reliable for the general public, and many workers would be willing to commute an hour or more each way in return for dependable daily transportation. However, West’s current fixed routes and schedules are too limited to accommodate the average 8-to-5 worker, let alone those on shift work or non-standard schedules.
As currently configured, neither WHCA Sun Rides nor West's Transportation are adequately meeting the transportation needs of the rural workforce in Washington County.
The impact of these limited transportation options affects well over half of the households and workforce of Washington County.