I spend a fair amount of time in Rockland in the summer, because I keep my Cape Dory 25 sailboat here, on a mooring. In early summer I sail it down from Bangor, where I live, and it stays in the harbor until October.
Rockland is the best place to sail from in Maine. You can go in any direction. Sometimes it’s hard to get back, though. The wind always seems to blow from Rockland.
Public transportation in Maine is a lot like sailing. You wait for a favorable window. You see places you never intended to see. You go miles out of your way for small gains toward your destination. Many times the direction of the wind or the bus is against you.
But the same thing that attracts sailors to Rockland should also make it a hotbed of public transportation. The infrastructure is all here: a bus station and ferry terminal, a large harbor, a train station, a nearby airport. Why can’t we have more buses, boats, trains and planes, and fewer automobiles? If the winds were more favorable, more visitors would leave their cars at home, and some of the congestion that comes with the short summer season might be alleviated.
From Bangor, it’s easy to get to Rockland without a car, and you don’t need a boat to do it. If you want to attend the Rockland Lobster Festival or other summer events, but don’t want to face the parking or the summer traffic on Route One, you can hop on a Concord Coach bus at 7 or 11 in the morning, spend a day on the coast, and board a return bus at either 4:15 or 9:30 pm.
Why more people don’t take advantage of this escapes me. The round-trip cost is only $34. For a larger group, it makes sense to take a vehicle, but for one or two people, the bus is cheaper, much more convenient, and it doesn’t take any longer than it does to drive.
Later in August comes the American Folk Festival in Bangor. One might expect a few folks from the Rockland area to attend. But if they want to do it by bus, they’re sunk. While the Concord Coach schedule works beautifully for Bangor residents who want to spend a day on the coast, there’s not a a similar day trip in the other direction.
Portland, yes – and Rockland is probably more culturally connected to Portland than Bangor anyway. One could get on the bus that I get off at just before 9 a.m. and be in Portland well before noon, with stops in Damariscotta, Bath, Brunswick, and a few other towns. This is, as a Concord Coach official told me once, “the bread and butter of the route.” Surprisingly few passengers ride between Rockland and Bangor. That might change if buses began running in both directions at both ends of the day.
But that’s the windy nature of public transportation in Maine. There’s more available than most people know about, but you need to know which direction it’s going when. In order to ride it effectively, you have to strategize. Maine has many public transportation services, but they are seldom interconnected.
We are living in the Late Automobile Age. We must imagine and then implement a more efficient way to move people around than millions of individual vehicles. It’s become too costly, at the personal, local, national, and global level. Public transportation is the future, and Rockland should seize it.
Hank Garfield is an author, teacher and sailor. You can find his blog at slowertraffic.net. Hank will be joining a discussion on the post-automobile age on the Rockland Metro Show on WRFR this Wednesday at 5 pm.