This image, shared during a virtual presentation last week, shows the proposed changes to Lewiston-Auburn’s citylink bus service.

AUBURN — Recommended route changes for the Twin Cities’ Citylink bus service have received a mixed reaction so far, and will be the subject of an additional public hearing this spring.

So far, public opinion appears to be mixed on proposals to streamline the service, and offer expanded service to the most popular routes while moving to an on-demand model for others.

About 25 people attended a virtual presentation last week to see the results of the study, officials said.

According to Jennifer Williams, Transportation Division/Metropolitan Planning Organization director at Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments/Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center, about half of respondents said the changes would be helpful to them, while another 40% felt the recommendations were a mix – some helpful, some not.

So far, she said, the bulk of the questions and comments have been related to recommendations impacting New Auburn, where service would change from fixed routes to an on-demand model.

“There are both advantages and disadvantages,” Williams said.

The virtual meeting last week was held to announce the results of a comprehensive transit study conducted last year, which used public surveys and analyzed current bus routes and ridership to form a series of recommendations.

In the presentation, officials shared ridership details, including which routes receive the most and least number of weekly boardings. According to the study, the top five stops account for 62% of all boardings. Other stops only average less than one boarding per trip, or are in the single digits for boardings per week.

The top two stops are the Oak Street hub in Lewiston, and the Auburn Walmart stop.

A Citylink bus stops at the Great Falls Plaza station in Auburn in 2016. Sun Journal file photo

That led officials to recommend increasing the frequency of trips between the most used routes. For example, the proposal calls for increasing the number of weekday trips from the Lewiston hub on Oak Street to Walmart from 12 to 43; and from the Auburn hub at Great Falls Plaza to Walmart from 12 to 32.

An image shared during the virtual presentation showed eight stops that average less than one person per trip. In response, the recommendation is to move to a “demand response service,” where those in need of a ride can request one.

That includes the New Auburn area, where at least a few residents spoke out against the proposal last week.

Stephen Martelli, a member of the Auburn Planning Board, said the proposal is “not fair,” and that “waiting an hour or two for demand response to be picked up is not acceptable.”

Christopher Rioux, who lives in New Auburn, said he has many friends who have depended on the bus service, and that he’s concerned about New Auburn being “excluded completely.”

Officials said in order to realize the benefits from streamlining routes and adding more trips, some regular stops would need to be eliminated, which has led to the on-demand zone proposal.

The presentation said the changes were proposed in order to offer more direct service with shorter travel times, additional service to Walmart from both hubs, and better timing of trips between the hubs.

The switch to the demand response service would offer an expanded area, including the Auburn Industrial Park area, more of the Lewiston Industrial Park and out Route 126 to Sabattus.

The study also took into account population density and job density to make sure service decisions are based on where people live and work.

The goal of the $100,000 study was to redesign the entire system into the most convenient and efficient model possible. Citylink has been Lewiston and Auburn’s primary bus service since 1976, with system hubs at Oak Street in Lewiston and Great Falls Plaza in Auburn.

Williams said a second forum will be held in May or June.

A study advisory committee met earlier this week to begin reviewing the recommendations and will meet again in June, she said.

Once the report and final recommendations are complete, likely by the end of the summer, it will be up to the Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee to identify which recommendations to implement and establish a timeline.

“Any changes to routes, schedules, or type of service (fixed route vs demand-response) will require additional rounds of public involvement prior to implementation,” Williams said.

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