Helping to cut the ribbon at a Downeast Transportation event on June 17 are (from left) Maine Commissioner of Labor Laura Fortman, Maine Commissioner of Transportation Bruce Van Note, Jackson Laboratory Vice President of External and Government Affairs LuAnn Ballesteros, Downeast Transportation Executive Director Paul Murphy, Jackson Laboratory network engineer Stephen Burgess, Friends of Acadia Interim President Stephanie Clement and Acadia National Park Deputy Superintendent Brandon Bies. ISLANDER PHOTO BY MALACHY FLYNN

Downeast Transportation replaces aging four buses

TRENTON — Downeast Transportation held an event on Friday, June 17, to introduce four new commuter buses to its lineup. 

They will be replacing four older buses that are no longer in good enough working condition to remain in service. The new buses are being strongly welcomed by employees of The Jackson Laboratory. 

Although they will be running on public commuter routes and are open to public use, they will primarily cater to Jackson Lab employees, providing transportation from various locations to the lab’s campuses in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor. 

The new buses will not have different routes or times than the existing Downeast Transportation bus schedule but are replacing the older buses in an effort to improve the commute of passengers who ride them along the existing routes. 

“They will not impact what our routes are or where we go,” said Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation. “What they will do is replace aging buses that are long overdue for replacement, and hopefully make our service more attractive to both JAX employees and members of the general public.” 

The lab has been working with Downeast Transportation since 1985, and this longtime partnership benefits both organizations. 

Murphy spoke about the benefits of the commuter bus service, and why it is so important that they coordinate with the lab. The majority of Downeast Transportation’s daily passengers work at the lab. 

“I would say it’s over 90 percent,” said Murphy, referring to the percentage of daily Downeast Transportation commuter bus passengers who are Jackson Lab employees. 

“Our routes are geared to their work shifts,” said Murphy, “and their work shifts are, you know, not the same as lots of other people’s.” 

Downeast Transportation has good reason to run its bus schedule to coincide with Jackson Lab shift times, however, since the lab incentivizes its employees to use the bus service and offers payment plans. 

“They have a paycheck withdrawal system, so people don’t have to pay us to ride the bus,” Murphy said. “The lab takes their subscription out of their paycheck and in turn compensates us.” 

LuAnn Ballesteros, vice president of external and government affairs at Jackson Lab, spoke about the value that their partnership with Downeast Transportation has to the lab and its employees. 

“Jackson employees aren’t the only ones who ride the bus,” Ballesteros said. “Our employees come from 123 different towns in 13 counties, so we’re probably the largest workforce that uses the buses, but I do think it’s advantageous to others.” 

“This is the most sophisticated workforce transportation system in the state,” she added. 

This commuter bus service is a huge money-saver for those who work at the lab but do not live on Mount Desert Island or nearby. Figures provided by the lab showed that employees who have a daily round-trip commute of roughly 100 miles can spend as much $14,000 every year on gas. 

In comparison, employees who use the bus service only spend $20 per week on transportation costs, which comes out to $1,000 per year. This is a massive financial value for employees with a long commute. 

“It’s an extremely valuable resource to be able to provide employees easy ways to get to work,” said Ed Noonan, the lab’s manager of facilities operations. “They save gas, they save money.” 

Even those who do not work for the lab, or ride Downeast Transportation buses, benefit from reduced traffic on and off Mount Desert Island since there are fewer commuters driving separately. Murphy has the numbers to back this up as well.  

“We did a count one day, this is going back 15 years ago, of cars coming on to the island in the morning, at like 7:00 to 7:30 or 8:00, eighty percent of them were single-passenger automobiles,” Murphy said. “So, if we’re taking say 100 passengers a day, that’s 80 cars per day off the road.” 

Malachy Flynn

Malachy Flynn

Reporter Malachy Flynn covers news on the Schoodic beat, which includes the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Sorrento, Sullivan, Trenton, Waltham, and Winter Harbor. He also reports on the town of Tremont on Mount Desert Island. He welcomes tips and suggestions about stories in the area. To contact Malachy with tips or questions, email him at [email protected].