The Maine Department of Transportation is preparing to launch a pilot commuter bus service between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn and is seeking bids from companies interested in winning the minimum two-year contract.

The goal is to begin service by June and attract some of the hundreds of workers who are traveling that route daily, according to a planning study. A majority of riders would come from the Lewiston-Auburn area, with about one-third originating from the Portland area.

The service would answer increasing demand for public transit between the two largest urban centers in southern Maine, where the population has grown because of new arrivals, job opportunities and tourism. Moreover, some people who work in the Portland area are choosing to commute from Lewiston-Auburn, where the cost of living is lower and housing is more affordable and available.

The Portland Transportation Center. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

“Despite this demonstrated and growing demand for transportation between the two urban centers, existing intercity public transportation schedules do not match up with typical work schedules and make round-trip travel challenging,” the study by Cambridge Systematics concluded.

Working with stakeholders last year, the study identified a preferred route that includes stops at Monument Square and the Portland Transportation Center in Portland; Bates College and the Oak Street Bus Station in Lewiston; and the Auburn Transportation Center at Great Falls Plaza and the Park & Ride Lot at Maine Turnpike Exit 75 in Auburn.

“Please!” one study participant commented. “L-A needs a public transportation option to Portland. Rail still feels out of reach, but a bus would be a game changer. Especially if it ran multiple times each day.”


Bates College said: “Having a dedicated bus route from Portland to Bates would help us encourage our workers and students to reduce their carbon footprint by swapping their personal vehicles for public transportation. It also would help us recruit a broader range of faculty, staff and students that may not have their own vehicle.”

The service will operate from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekends. The primary goal is to provide dependable daily round-trip transportation for workers, as well as connect to the Downeaster rail service and intercity bus routes in Portland. However, it also would be open to other travelers, including students, tourists, shoppers and people seeking medical care.

Annual operating costs are expected to be about $2 million, with baseline one-way fares ranging from $6 to $12, which is in line with similar services around Maine and the rest of New England, the planning study found. While fares would offset a small portion of operating costs, MDOT plans to run the pilot using state funds, while exploring options for permanent funding sources if the pilot proves successful.

“This pilot bus service will serve as an indicator of the latent demand and potential market for enhanced public transportation between the Portland and Lewiston-Auburn regions,” MDOT spokesman Paul Merrill said Wednesday in a statement.

The distance between the first and last stops on the route is about 44 miles and will take about 62 minutes, according to the MDOT’s request for proposals. Times of service may be adjusted slightly to accommodate at least 12 round trips per weekday and at least eight round trips per weekend.

The need for additional intercity transportation between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn has been identified in previous studies.


MDOT and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority have considered potential ridership for a rail link between the two urban centers. Their 2018 “transit propensity analysis” was based on demographic trends, public input, employment centers, population distribution and growth trajectories. It found that transit-style service would result in ridership of 700-1,900 daily trips by 2040, and less-frequent intercity-style service would result in 250-330 daily trips by that year.

For the commuter bus pilot, the planning study used StreetLight Data transportation analytics and Census data to estimate the number of travelers in each urban center who might use the service. Looking at peak weekday morning travel in particular, it identified 662 southbound daily trips and 172 northbound daily trips with a higher propensity to use the service. The study tallied a total of 1,606 southbound trips and 1,537 northbound trips each weekday.

“There is stronger directional flow toward the Portland region for work commute trips, with about one-third the number of trips going in the reverse direction toward the L-A area,” the study found. “The trips from higher-transit-propensity areas suggest that a commuter bus service, if well designed, easy to use, and appropriately marketed, could capture some existing demand for improved transportation service between these two areas.”

Contract bidders may propose variations on the recommended route, schedule and stops. Proposals are due Feb. 26.

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