ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — The Islander Explorer bus system set a new ridership record this year with 533,359 passengers, a 6 percent increase over last year’s record-setting total.
Ridership was 21 percent higher than in 2012 and 26 percent higher than in 2013, according to Paul Murphy, general manager of Downeast Transportation, which operates the Island Explorer.
The buses run each year from June 23 to Columbus Day, with a reduced schedule starting Sept. 1.
This year’s pre-September total was 425,252, with a daily average of 6,075 and a one-day peak of 9,285. That was on Aug. 18. The fall total was 108,107, with a daily average of 2,524 and a one-day peak of 4,936. That was on Sept. 6, the Sunday before Labor Day.
“This was the first year that fall ridership surpassed 100,000,” Murphy said.
He said the largest increases in ridership over last year were on the Park Loop Road route, which was up 25 percent; the Eden Street route, up 16 percent; and the Bike Express between the Bar Harbor Village Green and Eagle Lake, up 15 percent.
Murphy said the continuing increase in ridership is likely due to several factors.
“It speaks to the improving economy, that more people are coming here. I think it speaks to a good reputation that we’ve developed. And it speaks to a national trend toward more demand for transit.”
Murphy said buses were often running at capacity on several routes this year.
Everyone predicts Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park will have even more visitors than ever next year, as both the park and the National Park Service celebrate their 100th anniversaries.
“We are certainly going to take that into account as we plan for next season,” Murphy said. “We are limited by the number of vehicles we have, but we are exploring possibilities to temporarily beef up our fleet.
“We are somewhat limited by our ability to staff, and we are limited by budgets. But we will be looking at all those things because we certainly anticipate higher visitorship.”
The Island Explorer’s annual budget is just over $2 million. About 60 percent of that comes from a portion of Acadia’s park entrance fees.
“The next biggest contributor is the Federal Transit Administration through the Maine Department of Transportation,” Murphy said. “That is just a little bit higher than L.L. Bean, which has been on board for $200,000 a year.”
The rest of the operating funds for the Island Explorer come from the area municipalities that the bus system serves and from area businesses.
Murphy said there is no secret to what the ever-growing demand for bus service requires.
“It requires more money,” he said. “At some point, something has to give.”