By Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer
During the 2016 summer, USM officials entered negotiations with Portland Metro to create a partnership between the university and the public transportation system called the Transit West expansion. In the fall of 2017 it was officially announced that USM would move towards an official business relationship with Metro once their preexisting contract with a private transportation company was up.
USM’s contract with Custom Coach, the current bus company hired out by the university, will end within the next year after a six year long affiliation. At this time, Metro will take over the shuttle service between the Portland and Gorham campuses. However, the change in transportation company will mean a change to the schedule and routes. The transition from one business to the next will include a shift in the way students will access mobility services.
Using Metro means that students will be on a public bus system that will not only be carrying students between the Portland and Gorham campuses. The Metro busses will still pick students up at the bus stops on their respective campuses. However, the stops will be part of what Metro will call the Husky Line, a new bus route designed to fulfill the needs of USM students. The Husky Line, according to USM’s Office of Public Affairs, will incorporate stops in Westbrook and on Brighton Ave, with the hopes of increasing the flow of accessibility for students and community members.
Changes to the system have been met with mixed feelings at USM. USM’s own President Glenn Cummings has repeatedly gone on record as being wildly in favor of the new system. In August, Cummings was quoted as saying, “From USM’s point of view, this is an absolute triple win. This means better service, financial savings and environmental improvement. You can’t get much better than that.”
Though the USM administration has been pushing to have students hop on board and openly accept the new Metro deal, students have felt like the changes are beneficial for the university, but not great for students in the long run.
Local bus companies, including Custom Coach, are against the Metro-USM partnership, saying that the new system was entered into without hearing bids from other companies.
One of the most marketable changes to the new Metro-USM deal is that university employees and students will now be able to take advantage of unlimited access to the Metro transit system. Using USM identification, it will be possible to obtain a U-Pass that will cover the cost of riding on the bus system, which opens doors to the entire greater Portland area. This program will cost USM roughly $6,000 more to maintain than it cost USM to hold their contract with Custom Coach. USM will shell out $400,000 annually to ensure that all of its students are able to access the U-Pass system.
Metro will also be introducing a line of brand new busses that will be integrated onto the USM specific bus routes. Eleven new busses will be delivered, tested and staffed by August 2018, when the Transit West Project will officially launch, connecting the USM campuses with one another and the greater Portland area.
Though the fall semester will see the implementation of the many changes to the bus-line system at USM, the university’s intercollegiate athletic teams will continue to use charter busses from private companies to get them to athletic competitions.