TRENTON — Over the past couple of months, Downeast Transportation has taken delivery of 21 new replacement buses for the Island Explorer system. That’s about a year later than originally planned.
In June 2017, the Maine Department of Transportation contracted with Hometown Trolley of Crandon, Wis., to build the new buses at a cost of $4.99 million. The buses were expected to be delivered prior to the start of the 2018 Island Explorer season.
Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, said the delay had nothing to do with any problem with the manufacturer.
“It is a new bus model, and new buses need to go through a process called ‘Altoona testing’ because it happens in Altoona, Pennsylvania,” he said. “There is a facility there where buses go through a very rigorous testing process. But Altoona was backed up [last year] in terms of their ability to get buses through the process.”
Murphy said that all 21 of the new buses have now been delivered.
He said they would all be ready to hit the road when the Island Explorer begins its twenty-first season June 23.
The new buses will replace ones that have been in the fleet since 2006 and 2007. Murphy said those old buses are “beyond their rated useful life, which is 10 years.”
Another eight buses have been in service since 2010.
“So, their life will be up next season,” Murphy said. “I don’t think we will have all of them replaced then, but we should have at least some of those eight replaced next year.”
He said the Island Explorer has an active fleet of 31 buses, with several others that can be put into service as replacements.
The fare-free Island Explorer system, based at the Acadia Gateway Center here, takes passengers through Acadia National Park and to the towns on Mount Desert Island. It also operates on the Schoodic peninsula.
Murphy described the growth in ridership over the past 20 years as “remarkable.”
“When we started, we thought a thousand riders a day was ambitious,” he said. “Now, we never see a day that’s just a thousand riders.”
Last season, the average daily ridership in the summer, June 23 to Labor Day, was 7,217. The fall average, Labor Day to Columbus Day, was 3,353.
Total ridership in 1999 was just over 141,000. Last year it was 624,076, which was 39,686 more than in 2017, an increase of seven percent.