A Citylink bus stops at the Great Falls Plaza station in Auburn in 2016. A transit study this year could lead to a complete overhaul of the public transportation system in Lewiston-Auburn. Sun Journal file photo

LEWISTON — How effective is the Citylink bus system at getting people where they need to go?

Local transportation officials think they know the answer, and are hoping a study this year will lay out a path for public transit that will better serve the community.

When it’s complete, the $100,000 study could result in completely new routes, stops, a new schedule designed to cut down on travel times, and other wholesale changes.

“At this point in time, we do not feel that the current transit system is functioning as efficiently as it should, in order to meet the transit needs of the area,” a Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee memo states.

During a Lewiston City Council workshop discussion Tuesday, transportation officials from LATC said the study is intended to take a “blank slate” approach to the bus system.

Denis D’Auteuil, deputy city administrator and LATC chairman, said the committee wants “to understand what we’re missing for service for the workforce” and to look at  different models for transit, perhaps looking elsewhere for inspiration.

“We want to look at transit on the bigger picture,” said Jennifer Williams, transportation director for the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center, which is paying for the study. “We’re taking the approach of a blank slate.”

She said while the Citylink system’s hubs at Oak Street in Lewiston and Great Falls Plaza in Auburn are relatively “set in stone,” the rest of the system doesn’t have to be. She said whoever undertakes the study should look at what the community needs based on its workforce and employment centers.

Much of the conversation Tuesday focused on workforce needs. D’Auteuil said the study needs to look at creating a system that goes “beyond bringing people to the mall.”

“If workforce isn’t a primary focus, we’re missing the boat on this,” he said.

Williams said Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center, which also oversees transportation in Lisbon and Sabattus, saw the study as the “number one priority for transportation” in the region.

“We basically put every penny we could find toward this,” she said Tuesday.

According to the memo, the study will be paid by money from the Federal Highway Administration, Urban Planning and Federal Transit Administration Planning allocated to Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center.

Marsha Bennett, transit coordinator for Citylink, said past bus studies have been roughly a third of the cost of this year’s effort, but the “magnitude” of this study is different.

“We’re really investing in this study, to get a good team and a good result,” she said. “We really want a fresh look at this.”

Bennett also urged councilors to ride the bus to “get an understanding of how transit works in L-A.”

While studies of the transit system have been undertaken in the past, they have generally focused on minor adjustments to the system, the memo states.

“The goal of the study is to determine the most efficient and effective transit system for the (Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center) area, in order to enhance reliability and accessibility for riders, limit the time required to travel between important origin and destination points, and provide service in geographical areas on days and times with the highest demand for transit service,” it states.

Last year, during budget discussions in Auburn, Bennett described several issues with the current system, including some 90-minute routes.

Funding for Citylink was restored to previous levels this year, after Auburn partially cut its funding in 2017, which effectively doubled due to matching federal dollars. Following the decision, transportation officials said the move impacted route times and overall service and affected ridership numbers and route miles — figures that play into federal funding levels.

During that same period, ridership steadily decreased from all-time highs in 2015.

On Tuesday, councilors in Lewiston were supportive of the study. Councilor Alicia Rea said she was pleased to see that public participation was the first item listed under the study’s “scope of services.”

According to the study memo, a consultant will hold at least one public forum to launch the study, followed by at least two public meetings as the study unfolds.

Councilor Zack Pettengill said the bus system needs to find “different ways to be where our citizens need us to be.”

“What we get for the money we invest is really a lot,” Mayor Mark Cayer said, referring to Citylink. “I do think we’ve underfunded transportation in this area, and I’m excited for the scope of this study.”

D’Auteuil said it will likely be May before the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center awards a contract for a consultant. The project is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2021.


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