Banking on pools


LEWISTON – Gerard Roy was banking money for fuel oil, working overtime shifts at Bath Iron Works to get a head start on next winter’s heating bill.

Not anymore.

“Low and behold, gas prices went up like a son of a gun, and I told my wife, Hey, it’s just not worth it,'” Roy said.

Gas, climbing toward the $3 per gallon mark, forced him to realign his priorities. Like other Maine commuters, Roy had to make a choice.

Overtime shifts mean Roy has to drive his own van to work by himself, making the 54-mile round trip between his Lewiston home and BIW in Bath. That’s an extra $30 per week poured into his gas tank.

The rest of the week he rides in a van pool with 10 others, paying $28 a week for the privilege.

Something had to give, and that was the overtime.

“Beyond the wear and tear on the car and the wear and tear on me, it just didn’t make sense any more,” Roy said.

Gas prices have commuters all over Maine looking for cost-saving solutions, said Carey Kish, manager of the Go Maine Commuter program. Sponsored by the Maine Department of Transportation, it matches commuters who use similar routes and have similar schedules.

“Maine is difficult, because we don’t have the population density in any one place to make public transit services really effective,” Kish said. Maine is still mostly rural and workers need to travel some distance for their paychecks.

The average commute in Maine is 75 miles round trip, Kish said.

“We have some great transit systems, but go beyond a city and you run into a problem,” he said. “Carpooling really makes a difference there.”

The program has registered at least 747 new commuters in the past six months. That’s a 23 percent increase, and more people are signing up every day.

But carpools don’t work for everyone.

Joel Irish rode in a carpool for the 100-mile round trip between his Turner home and the Gorham campus of the University of Southern Maine, where he teaches math. It didn’t last, he said.

“The problem is, I typically have classes at 6 o’clock at night, or at eight in the morning,” Irish said. “It’s hard to find someone who has the same schedule.”

Instead, he regularly stays at his daughter’s house in Scarborough, a five-minute commute.

Others have had to tighten their belts to cope with the rising price of gas.

Steve Robinson of Poland normally rides in a carpool for the 74-mile round trip between his home and his office at National Semiconductor in South Portland.

But he works for a global company and his schedule isn’t always on Maine time, Robinson said. “Sometimes I need to be in early, to talk to someone that’s five hours ahead of us. The carpool doesn’t work when I do that.”

His carpool arrangement saves him about $35 a week and he works from home when he can, but he has to bite the bullet a couple of times a week.

“From the family side of things, we don’t go out much,” he said. “It’s all part of the belt-tightening. We’re not flush, but we make decent living.”

Gas prices have forced Melissa Duprey of Auburn to cut out weekend trips to visit her son, who lives with his father in Millinocket.

Duprey, who works at a call center in Lewiston, took the bus to Millinocket every weekend when round-trip tickets cost $48. When the fare increased to $73, she had to curtail her trips.

“It’s either that, or cut down on what I pay for child support – and I can’t do that,” she said.