TRENTON — The fare-free Island Explorer bus system will start running June 23 as usual, but it will operate this year on only half the usual number of routes, Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, said in announcing the 2021 schedule.
“The continued threat of COVID-19 and the need to maintain strict social distancing drastically reduce the number of people we can allow on each bus,” he said.
Island Explorer buses have a capacity of 43 passengers, with 30 seated and 13 standing. But this year, the total will be limited to around 12 to 15 passengers.
Given that, Murphy said, “We know that to ensure customer satisfaction, we need to increase the frequency of service. But we do not have enough buses or drivers to offer frequent service on all routes.
“We cannot ask passengers who are turned away to wait 30 or 60 minutes for their next bus, especially when there is a good chance that the next bus will also be full.”
In previous years, the bus from Bar Harbor to Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor and Bernard ran only once every hour.
“And it ran full for much of the day for much of the season,” Murphy said. “If it could carry only 12 passengers this year instead of 43, that would take four times as many buses, and we just can’t do it.”
The Island Explorer typically operates on 10 routes plus the “bicycle express,” a van and trailer that carries bikes and riders from downtown Bar Harbor to Eagle Lake. This year, there will be only five bus routes and no bike express.
2021 Explorer routes
The Route 2 (Visitor Center) bus will run between the Bar Harbor Village Green and the Acadia Visitor Center in Hulls Cove, with stops at College of the Atlantic, the Bar Harbor Regency and the Bar Harbor Motel. Buses on this route will run every 10 minutes in the summer and every 20 minutes in the fall.
Route 3 (Sand Beach) will run every 30 minutes between the Village Green and Otter Cliff, with stops at Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and the Cadillac Mountain North Ridge trailhead.
Route 4 (Loop Road) will take passenger from the Visitor Center to Cadillac North Ridge and around the Park Loop Road, with stops at Sieur de Monts Spring, Sand Beach, Wildwood Stables and Jordan Pond House. The frequency will be every 10 minutes in the summer and 20 minutes in the fall.
Route 5 (Jordan Pond) will run between the Visitor Center and Jordan Pond House, with stops at Cadillac North Ridge and Bubble Pond. The frequency: every 10 minutes in the summer and 20 minutes in the fall.
Route 8 (Schoodic) makes a loop on the Schoodic Peninsula, with stops in Winter Harbor and at the ferry terminal, Schoodic Woods Campground, Schoodic Point, Birch Harbor and Prospect Harbor. The frequency is approximately every 30 minutes.
Routes cut this year
The routes that have been cut from this year’s Island Explorer schedule are: Bar Harbor Road, from the Village Green to the head of the Island; Brown Mountain, from the Village Green to Eagle Lake, Parkman Mountain, Brown Mountain and Northeast Harbor; Southwest Harbor, from the Village Green to Somesville, Echo Lake, Southwest Harbor, Manset, Seawall Campground, Bass Harbor and Bernard; Trenton, from the Village Green through Town Hill and to the Acadia Gateway Center; and Blackwoods, from the Village Green to Sieur de Monts and Blackwoods Campground.
“We are trusting and hoping that the public health picture will resolve for next season and we can restore full service,” Murphy said.
This year, the Island Explorer will operate on Mount Desert Island through Oct. 11. The reduced fall schedule will start the last week in August.
On the Schoodic Peninsula, spring service will begin in early June, summer service on June 23, and fall service will run Sept. 1 through Oct. 11.