PORTLAND (AP) – When Amtrak’s Downeaster made its inaugural run on Dec. 15, 2000, the folks at Concord Trailways viewed the silver train as having the potential to siphon away riders from their buses.

Nearly two years later, operators of the Downeaster and the popular bus service have become partners.

Starting next month, Concord Trailways and Amtrak will begin selling a $99 “Flexpass” good for six one-way trips between Portland and Boston by train or bus, giving travelers greater scheduling flexibility.

It’s a far cry from the days when New Hampshire-based Concord viewed the Maine-subsidized Downeaster as a threat.

“Instead of seeing this as competition, we’re banding together to provide the best service possible and to attract people to public transportation,” said John Englert, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees the Downeaster.

The Downeaster already shares space in Concord Trailways’ passenger terminal in Portland. Combined, the train and buses provide 16 round trips a day between Portland and Boston, officials said.

The Flexpass goes on sale on Oct. 1. The introductory rate of $99 for six one-way trips will be good at least until year’s end.

The price represents a $27 savings over the regular rate for six one-way Downeaster tickets from Portland to Boston or a $6 savings on three round-trip tickets. The savings is smaller – $12 – for six regular one-way Concord Trailways bus tickets, and there’s no savings on round-trip tickets.

But the idea is greater flexibility, not savings, especially for train travelers who need to travel outside the train’s normal schedule. The bus makes 12 daily runs, compared to four for the train.

For example, a Maine business traveler whose meeting ends early in Boston wouldn’t have to wait for the 6:15 p.m. train at North Station. The commuter could hop aboard Concord Trailways at 4:15 p.m. or 5:15 p.m. at the South Station.

Also, the Downeaster and Concord Trailways schedules are going to be posted side-by-side on Amtrak’s Web site. And Concord will honor Amtrak tickets to Portland for the last leg of a trip from Washington or New York.

Ken Hunter, vice president of Concord Trailways, said both the bus company and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority have realized that they’re competing not against each other but against something bigger.

“If we join together we can fight a bigger entity, and really that’s the automobile,” Hunter said. “We’re just trying to get as many cars as possible off the Maine Turnpike and into public transportation.”

Concord Trailways had expressed concern in the past about the train getting unfair government subsidies. Hunter now recognizes that the Downeaster is here to stay and that there’s demand for the service.

“If that’s the policy in Maine to spend money on the train, then I’d rather be their friend and not battle against them,” he said.

Englert said that in the end, both the Downeaster and Concord Trailways will see more passengers under the program. And the Flexpass will be convenient because it doesn’t require reservations, he said.

The Downeaster’s stops include Saco and Wells in Maine; Dover, Durham and Exeter in New Hampshire; and Haverhill and Woburn in Massachusetts. Seasonal stops in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, will begin on May 1.

Concord Trailways makes 12 daily nonstop runs in each direction between the two cities, and also offers travel north to Bangor.

On the Net:

The Downeaster http://www.thedowneaster.com/

Concord Trailways http://www.concordtrailways.com/concord-trailways.htm

AP-ES-09-17-03 1348EDT

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