Monday, September 20, 2010

Duhhhh…..on piloting the train with a bus

Before we begin, a simple, yet important question: what’s the difference between installing a Bus Stop sign, and announcing that a train will be coming to town, complete with a picture of a diesel locomotive?

If you don’t know the answer right up front, we’ll fill you in later.

At the moment, color Other Side truly embarrassed; we’re feeling completely clueless about the multi-modal transportation issues on the local agenda, and specifically, the train v. bus discussion we put forward in this post.  (Not to mention the tie in to the editorial testimony of Jackie Sartoris in The Ostrich a few weeks back.)

This became obvious last week, when on a casual run into town, we noticed three very sleek and classy looking buses parked on Maine Street Station premises.  They are operated by Concord Coach lines.

Here’s what the buses look like; note that some are equipped with WiFi internet service.

At first we surmised that our earlier suggestion had stimulated a pilot program to test the demand for ‘mass transit’ between Brunswick, Portland, and possibly Boston.  You know, as a prelude to committing tens of millions in “public investment” to establish rail service.

Then it dawned on us; commercial ‘mass transit’ options are already available, and have been for some years.  The new news is that the bus line now uses Maine Street Station as a depot & destination.

It would seem important then to look at schedules, fares, and connection flexibility to compare established bus service to proposed train service.

Let’s do that.  Here’s the schedule heading both south and north.   You’ll note that the buses run from the Bangor/Orono area in the north, to Logan Airport in the Boston area to the south.

You can leave Brunswick twice a day on the way to Portland and beyond, and leave Boston on the way to Portland and Brunswick twice a day.  Half of the trips start and end at destinations much further north.

As to fares, they look pretty reasonable.  Brunswick to Portland is $13, while a round trip is $20.  Brunswick to Logan Airport is $31, or $54 for a round trip.

The transit time from Brunswick to Portland is 35 minutes, while the transit time to Logan is 3 hours.  In our experience, that’s pretty damn good time.  Can you do much better?

Or more to the point, could some new Amtrak run do any better, and charge anywhere close to the same rates?

Wait; there’s a ‘rub.’  The bus doesn’t stop in Freeport, which is an advertised feature of the proposed Amtrak run.  Now I see why we’re spending $38 million to bring the train from Portland to Brunswick; it makes perfect sense.  Doesn’t it?

How could we possibly expect an established bus service to stop in another town directly along their route?  How could we possibly expect our visionary leaders to find a way to influence such a decision?

Now to the opening question:  Putting in a bus stop sign doesn’t provide the kind of high-profile photo-opp that a train coming to town does.

And a $100 Bus Stop sign doesn’t provide much in the way of bragging rights for local politicians.  When’s the last time you saw a governor speak at a bus stop sign installation?  Or amassed officials preening for a photo with a 2 hour parking sign?  Or read a press release from one of our US Senators proclaiming their pride in funding a $100 curbside sign?

On the other hand, the arrival of a huge, 12 foot tall diesel engine is a publicity event of major proportions.  And in our circumstances, will likely involve local, state, and federal officials, all reminding us of the magic they worked on our behalf.

Which makes the tens of millions of taxpayer funds to be “invested” really worth it, at least to them.  Not to mention the “romance of the rails.”  Which leads one to recall the romance of a horse and buggy, like in Central Park and elsewhere.  Oops…there I go again, losing focus.

We recognize that in recent years, an electro-political imperative to bring the train to Brunswick has evolved and become unassailably logical and a matter of faith.  We are equally convinced that not a shred of economic wisdom for doing so has been forthcoming, especially in light of the existing bus service.  And let’s not use the carbon footprint tactic; comparing a diesel locomotive to a bus would not be a pretty sight.  In short, we’re having trouble figuring out why anyone would do this.

Unless you are the government, of course, in which case, it makes perfect sense. Whatever the hell perfect sense means in a political context.

In all seriousness, the more I reflect on this, the less I’m able to see the wisdom and sustainability of this decision.  I invite knowledgeable readers to fill us in, so we can rest easy with the situation.  We’ll be happy to publish comments and more.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll see if I can get some ridership figures for the bus.  Should be illuminating.

1 comment:

  1. How dare you take umbrage at the governments desire, if not right to help people who have a mental health problem? Don’t you realize that people with mental health problems have it hard enough living with the stigma of mental instability. I’m speaking of that mental health issue called “nostalgia”. One of the most debilitating classes of this disease is called Pullman’s Syndrome. (Named after George Pullman who founded the Pullman Car Co. that made railroad cars) Those suffering from this syndrome run from a severe longing for the return of passenger rail to downright depression. It can be triggered by the sight of a toy train under the Christmas tree (hence the governments ban on Christmas decorations), the plaintive wail of a train whistle, or, in the most extreme cases, by rolling double sixes (box cars) at the casino when you are playing with food stamps or your earned income tax credits.
    The only cure is the return of passenger rail and who but the government can afford to do that? Mr. Poppycock, have you no compassion?