Explorer buses set ridership record

BAR HARBOR — By the time the Island Explorer bus system ended its 2018 season Oct. 8, it had set a new ridership record with 620,991passenger trips.

That was 39,686 more than in 2017, an increase of 7 percent. And last year’s number was 9 percent higher than the previous year’s.

The fare-free Island Explorer buses, which serve Acadia National Park and the surrounding towns, start running each year on June 23 and continue through Columbus Day.

Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, which operates the Island Explorer system, said the increase in ridership this year probably was due to several factors.

“The weather was good for much of the summer, mostly dry and sunny,” he said. “The economy is good. Park visitation has been up, so ridership would naturally be up. And I’m guessing the cruise ship population was up from last year, and those visitors help drive our numbers.”

The Island Explorer switched from its summer schedule to its somewhat reduced fall schedule on Aug. 29. Before that, the daily average number of bus passengers was 7,217.

“I remember when that used to be our peak,” Murphy said. “Our summer peak day this year was Aug. 8, when we had 9,602 passengers.

“The fall average was 3,353 passengers, and the fall peak, on Sept. 2, was 5,200.”

The reconstruction of Route 3 between Mount Desert Street and Hulls Cove, which required outbound traffic to detour on the Acadia National Park Loop Road, affected the Island Explorer buses the same as it did other motorists.

“Navigating the construction presented some logistical challenges,” Murphy said. “It cost us money because we had to extend the Eden Street route out to the [Hulls Cove] Visitor Center, so we needed an extra bus on that route.

“But overall, I would say there wasn’t much we didn’t anticipate. I think it went OK.”

Murphy said the Eden Street route, which serves a number of hotels, as well as the Visitor Center, had the highest ridership number for the season, 131,009.

“That makes sense because that route runs into the night; it’s the last one to go to sleep,” Murphy said. “So, we have not just park visitors but people who are out for the evening in Bar Harbor. That route also runs every 15 minutes through much of the day.”

In Acadia, the Jordan Pond route counted 97,227 passenger trips. The Sand Beach route had 92,397, and the Loop Road route had 91,259.

The Island Explorer route that serves Winter Harbor and the Schoodic Peninsula section of Acadia recorded 10,598 passenger trips this year. That was up 305 over last year.

This was the Island Explorer’s twentieth season. Even though it just ended, “We’re already hiring for next season,” Murphy said.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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