ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — If the first two weeks of the Island Explorer bus service are any indication, this could be another record-smashing year for ridership.
Last summer and fall, the free bus service carried 503,224 passengers – an 18 percent increase over the previous year.
Paul Murphy, general manager of Downeast Transportation, which operates the Island Explorer system, said earlier this week, “We’ll be hard pressed to meet that record ridership.”
But that was before he got the passenger totals for both of the first two weeks of this season, which started June 23.
During the first week, ridership was 23,406, a drop of more than 10 percent from the year before. But he noted that two days of this year’s first week were “real washouts” due to rain.
Ridership the second week, June 30 through July 6, totaled 32,776, which was 5,803 more than for the same week last year. For the two weeks combined, 56,182 people rode the buses, an increase of 3,150 over the same period in 2014.
Friday, July 3, was by far the busiest day of the Independence Day weekend this year, with 6,324 bus riders. Last year’s July 3 total was 4,052.
Murphy said he is happy the bus system is so popular; however, he won’t necessarily be disappointed if this year isn’t another record breaker.
“That may not be a horrible thing, because we were at or above capacity for good chunks of last year,” he said.
“When you’re running full buses all the time, the drivers are stressed, the supervisors are stressed, the dispatchers are stressed, and the equipment is stressed.
“And when you have a full bus and you pull up to a bus stop where there are people waiting, you can’t accommodate them. So, you sometimes end up leaving people on the side of the road, and that’s not ideal.”
The free Island Explorer bus system is in its 17th year of operation. It has carried nearly 5.5 million passengers around Mount Desert Island and through Acadia, including the section of the park on the Schoodic Peninsula.