Quietside towns ask for bus run reconsideration

TREMONTAfter the announcement in March that Island Explorer buses would not run in Southwest Harbor and Tremont this season, the towns’ chamber of commerce is asking Downeast Transportation to reconsider. 

Southwest Harbor and Tremont Chamber of Commerce Vice President Alan Feuer asked the Tremont Board of Selectmen during their meeting Monday for a letter in support of bringing at least one bus run to the backside of the island for the 2021 season.  

“This would be a great benefit to this side of the island,” Feuer said to the board.  

Limited parking at several of the Acadia National Park sites, including Bass Harbor Head Light, Ship Harbor and Wonderland, is one of the main reasons for the request.  

“Currently, Tremont prohibits parking along Lighthouse Rd, creating a difficult situation for visitors: if they want to visit the lighthouse and there is no space available in the small parking lot, they need to turn around disappointed or chance getting cited for illegal parking,” explained a proposal presented to the Board of Selectmen. “The heart of the problem is that during the season there are too many cars on Lighthouse Rd and 102A. This results in overflowing parking areas, potential public safety hazards and disappointed visitors.” 

During the Acadia National Park’s reservation system trial last October, there were several reports made to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office regarding cars parked along Route 102A in Bass Harbor. It seemed as though more visitors flocked to Bass Harbor Head Light where there is no fee to enter. There is a nearly 90degree turn on 102A where it meets Lighthouse Road, which increases traffic and creates hazards to pedestrian safety when vehicles are parked on the side of the road in that area.  

Assistant Deputy Pat Kane attended a selectmen meeting at the beginning of April to discuss a plan for addressing parking in the area of Bass Harbor Head Light this season. Kane told the board the park would not be advertising the lighthouse on its website to possibly reduce traffic.  

“Until they put a parking area in, this is going to be a continuing issue,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Jamie Thurlow.  

“I think if a couple of cars get towed down there, word will get around pretty quick,” said Selectman McKenzie Jewett.  

Outside of meeting with park officials to request help with directing traffic onto Lighthouse Road, Kane said the sheriff’s office plans to issue traffic tickets and have vehicles towed if ticketing is not effective. A bus run through the area could reduce the number of parked vehicles. 

“The proposed route is a loop that begins at Echo Lake, then heads south stopping at Smuggler’s Den Campground, Southwest Harbor town center, the Tremont school, the Swan’s Island Ferry Terminal, the lighthouse, Ship Harbor, Wonderland, Seawall Campground, Seawall, Southwest Harbor town center, Acadia Vendor’s Market and back to Echo Lake,” according to the chamber’s proposal. “Parking for the bus would be available at Echo Lake, in the town center, at the Tremont school, Seawall Campground and the Acadia Vendor’s Market. Each parking lot would be marked with a standardized road sign. In addition, the chamber would produce and distribute route maps to local visitor centers and businesses.” 

Downeast Transportation Director Paul Murphy said he was aware of the chamber of commerce bringing a proposal to the Tremont Board of Selectmen but had not seen it and therefore could not comment on it. 

“We don’t have the capacity to provide meaningful service there,” Murphy explained about why the company cut its bus routes to Southwest Harbor and Tremont this season.  

In previous seasons, the Island Explorer provided two buses that ran an hourly service and was heavily ridden, according to Murphy. Social distancing requirements for the buses equates to a 65 percent reduction in passengers.  

“To provide that level of service, we’d need to provide three times that amount (of buses), which is impossible,” said Murphy. “Even though we have the same number of buses and the same number of drivers, we can only carry a third of the passenger load.” 

In addition to the request of support from the Tremont Board of Selectmen, representatives of the chamber are planning to ask the Southwest Harbor selectmen and Acadia National Park officials for letters of support for the bus route. Once those are in place, the chamber plans to present the information to Downeast Transportation for consideration.  

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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