Reubin Hardy prepares to board the Western Maine Transportation Service bus Thursday near his home in Auburn. Hardy has worked for Panolam in Auburn for a month, and the first day he started the job, he walked to work. “It’s an hour and 15-minute walk,” he said, “and it’s cold too.” Since the second day, he has ridden the free bus provided by his employer. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — It’s a solution to a problem facing employers and employees alike — getting people to and from work consistently, in areas and times of the day not serviced by public transportation, carpooling or even ride-sharing services.

WorxLink is a transportation pilot program in the Lewiston Auburn area that leverages private-public collaboration and is funded with a $225,000 grant through Gov. Janet Mills’ Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan.

Western Maine Transportation Services is operating the subscription pickup and dropoff service and its biggest user is Panolam Surface Systems of Auburn, although it is open to anyone who lives and works in Lewiston or Auburn.

The WorxLink service is focused on second and third shift workers who have no other public transportation options. Customers are picked up at their house or apartment and taken directly to work and picked up at the end of their shift and taken home. Some of these trips take place at two or three in the morning, Monday through Friday.

Western Maine Transportation Services’ Executive Director Sandy Buchanan said this is a problem she’s been trying to solve for a decade. “Because many people start out on second or third shift, and if they don’t have a vehicle there’s no other option for them to get back and forth to work unless they can carpool.” While Buchanan said she backs the use of carpools, when a driver calls out sick, the other riders are likely to be out as well.

Seth Thomas gets off the Western Maine Transportation Services bus Thursday at his job at Panolam in Auburn. Thomas is grateful for the service which gets him to his job for free. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Like other manufacturers in Maine, Panolam has been looking to fill positions at its production facility at 1 Pionite Road, which is in an industrial area not served by public transportation. Materials and Operations Manager Brad Tripp said they were looking for ways to solve their transportation problem when they discovered the WorxLink program at a meeting with city officials in May 2023.


“It was a no-brainer to me to be honest with you,” Tripp said when recalling the day he heard a presentation on WorxLink. “For three dollars a ride, you know for our employees — that’s what it would cost them. As a company, we decided to pick up that three dollars so it is a free ride for our employees.”

As a condition of the grant, 20% has to come as a local match. That can be from fares collected from riders, but Panolam is paying for the fares and its employees are the majority of riders. Because of that, the program costs nothing for Auburn, Lewiston or Androscoggin County.

“It’s great,” Amelia Kapacala, who works in employee relations for Panolam, said. “You don’t have to worry about driving, especially in the snow.”

Originally from Angola, the new Mainer helps the company translate for other new Mainers, who benefit greatly from the service. It allows Panolam to recruit new Mainers with the guarantee of a free ride to and from work.

Panolam is taking it a step further, offering free English classes for employees at the plant two days a week at no cost. The company is working with Lewiston Adult Education to provide those classes and Panolam is picking up the cost.

That makes workers more comfortable, Tripp said, and allows them to communicate better and become more productive. He said they’re also teaching them lingo used on the production floor to minimize any communication gap.


Reubin Hardy, left, chats Thursday with co-worker Seth Thomas on their way in to work on a Western Maine Transportation Service bus provided by their employer Panolam in Auburn. Both men expressed appreciation for the service. Hardy began the job without knowing about the service and walked to work his first day. “It’s an hour and 15-minute walk,” he said, “and it’s cold too. It’s very generous they do this for us.” Since the second day, he has ridden the free bus provided by his employer. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Jay Lashua is a new worker at Panolam and is also taking advantage of the free bus service. “The biggest part is the convenience,” he said Thursday. The Florida native lives near Bates College in Lewiston but doesn’t have a driver’s license. He points out another aspect of the service is the level of customer service provided by the drivers.

“It’s great,” Lashua said. “I have numbers for both the morning driver and the afternoon driver, so I can communicate with them and tell them if I’m not coming in. This is the first job I’ve ever had that had work transportation.”

Kapacala echoed Lashua’s comments and added that the WorxLink service is one of the main reasons new Mainers want to work at Panolam.

When WorxLink started in June 2023, it was reporting 22 trips a day. Now, it’s providing just shy of 60 a day, or 6,500 total trips since starting.

Buchanan said the pilot was expected to last for 18 months, but the sponsorships from Panolam and a few other smaller groups should extend the service to three years.

Buchanan said her team at Western Maine Transportation Services works miracles keeping the buses on the road as they wait up to four years to replace vehicles ordered before or during the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems the chassis they use for the buses are the same ones used for recreational vehicles, electric vehicles and ambulances, and they seem to get the lowest priority.

The collaborative effort involved the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments and the LA Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Strengthen LA program, in addition to Western Maine Transportation Services and the Maine Department of Transporation.

For more on the workforce transportation program, you can go to their website.

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