During budget negotiations for this year, Auburn officials restored funding for the Citylink bus system, allowing it to return to full service in 2020. Sun Journal file photo

LEWISTON — The bus system servicing Lewiston and Auburn will see considerable changes in 2020, including expanded service and a new stop at Auburn’s Senior Community Center.

The changes taking affect Thursday, Jan. 2, are the first significant ones to the Citylink bus service in the past few years, as funding levels that were previously cut in Auburn have been restored for this fiscal year.

The Citylink website has posted the updated schedule, which notes changes to six bus routes as well as a new Pettengill Park stop at Auburn’s new Senior Community Center.

The changes were agreed upon by the Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee earlier this year, following two public meetings in September to get input from riders.

The public comment period for the proposed route changes ended in mid-September. The updated bus schedule will see route changes for the Main Street, New Auburn, Downtown Shuttle, Minot Avenue, Auburn Malls and Mall Shuttle routes.

City Councilor Belinda Gerry, an LATC member who has fiercely advocated for the Citylink system, said Tuesday that the changes are significant.

“It’s by far better,” Gerry said about the new schedule. “Anything that’s going to cut down on the time it takes to get people from point A to point B and back again is a win for our ridership.”

During budget negotiations for fiscal year 2017, the Auburn City Council voted to cut its share of funding for the Citylink system, which led to cuts in service in Auburn. It also ultimately led to more funding cuts, as decreased ridership cost the system federal dollars.

During previous discussions, Citylink Transit Coordinator Marsha Bennett reported some routes took an hour and a half.

While recommending that the city return to its previous funding levels earlier this year, City Manager Peter Crichton said Auburn had lost 25 percent of its ridership since 2016, when the funding was cut.

The resulting budgets approved in 2019 for fiscal 2020 are an increase of nearly 20%, with Auburn’s share going from roughly $217,500 to $336,300. Lewiston’s share went from $280,300 to $336,300.

During budget negotiations in 2019, Gerry faced resistance from Mayor Jason Levesque, who has pressured transportation officials to “think outside the box.” In 2018, he suggested it would be cheaper to give passes to residents to take an Uber.

“If we can restore the faith that we lost we can increase ridership, have more stability,” Gerry said Tuesday, adding that increased ridership will hopefully allow Citylink to see a return of its previous federal funding.

Due to the previous cuts, the bulk of the changes in 2020 will impact Auburn bus routes. In New Auburn, which saw its route times slashed three years ago, the route will increase from eight stop locations to 11.

The downtown shuttle route, designed to bring passengers between downtown Lewiston and Auburn, will also add another stop, at the Hampton Inn.

Gerry, who has also been a leading advocate for Auburn’s new senior center, said the new Pettengill Park stop will benefit seniors who are looking to take advantage of the new programming available at the center. Auburn’s inaugural ceremony took place there in December. On Tuesday, Gerry was among a crew of people making preparations for a New Year’s Eve meal.

“I’m very excited about the bus to the senior center,” she said. “Once you can get more seniors to the center, the more active it’s going to be.”

In December, the LATC also held a workshop to discuss an upcoming transit study scheduled for 2020.

The Citylink bus system is owned by the Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee, but is operated and maintained by Western Maine Transportation Services.

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