SACO — It’s been said that you can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system and for 30 participants in the Greater Portland Council of Government’s “Stupendous Tournament of Transit” on Friday, it was certainly a learning experience to remember.
In a daylong contest drawing transit leaders and elected officials in the Greater Portland area, seven teams competed in a race throughout the region using all forms of available public transportation. The event was intended to familiarize officials with local public transportation systems and build momentum for improved transit connections in the region and easier access for riders.
“It’s really all about giving participants the experience of riding public transit,” said Aubrey Miller, Transportation Project manager for the Greater Portland Council of Governments.
Miller said teams got to experience first-hand services provided to the community by Amtrak Downeaster, Casco Bay Lines, Greater Portland METRO, Regional Transportation Program, ShuttleBus-ZOOM, City of South Portland Bus Service, and York County Community Action Corporation.
Participants included Gail Kezer, a staffer from U.S. Senator Angus King’s office, city and town councilors and planners, transit agency staff and general managers, transit agency board members, and representatives from GO MAINE, Portland Downtown, Age-Friendly Saco and the Maine Turnpike Authority.
According to Miller, the Greater Portland Council of Governments teamed up with the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System to organize the “Stupendous Tournament of Transit” and it’s part of a larger effort by the organizations and its transit partners to make the region’s transit network more accessible and improve connections between routes and schedules.
“The Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System is a regional agency that works on transit,” Miller said.
Demand for public transportation continues to grow across Southern Maine, with ridership for Portland METRO alone rising from 1.4 million in 2013 to 1.8 million in 2018, an increase of more than 400,000 in five years. Significant issues facing public transportation in the future include spiraling maintenance costs for infrastructure, traffic congestion, longer commute times, construction costs and an ever-aging population.
Each one of the seven teams started at the Saco Transportation Center and then took different routes to reach the Portland Media Center on Congress Street in Portland.
Teams hailed from across Southern Maine and were made up of individuals from various city, town and transportation agencies.
“The teams were mixed so they all could get to know one another a little better,” Miller said. “What they learned from this experience is partly informational, educational and can assist decision-makers and others in planning for transportation needs. Our hope is that it prepares them to be invested for support for what we want to do in the future.”
Tom Bell, Public Information Officer for the Greater Portland Council of Governments, said that the morning kickoff at the Saco Transportation Center was a circus-themed event that featured “Whistle,” a juggler/unicyclist/acrobat from the Sellam Circus School, and teams wore clown wigs and other circus props.
“At the Grand Finale in Portland, winners received fancy medals and flower-shaped lollipops,” Bell said.
Local participant Perian Carpenter, Mobility Manager for ShuttleBus-Zoom, said she was excited to take the train to Portland and be a part of the event.
Carpenter said she had met participants from Amtrak, Casco Bay Lines, Metro, RTP, ShuttleBus-Zoom, South Portland Bus and York County Community Action Corporation during the event.
Other participants included Greater Portland Council of Governments Executive Director Kristina Egan, Jennifer Crosby of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, and Michael Foster, an assistant town planner from Old Orchard Beach.
— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org