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Go Maine vanpool service puts on the brakes

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AUGUSTA - Passengers who use the Go Maine vanpool service have been given some extra time to find an alternative means of transportation before the service screeches to a halt in the fall.

"We're not eliminating Go Maine. It's just the portion that deals with vanpools. This was not done without a lot of thought; we knew it would be disruptive, but it was something that wasn't sustainable. We couldn't offer folks those transportation options with gas going up," said Sue Moreau, manager of passenger service for The Maine Department of Transportation.

Go Maine is a commuter service that provides low cost, economical and eco-friendly options for folks traveling to and from work. It includes everything from carpool and vanpool services to buses or bicycling options available throughout the state. Go Maine's vanpool service began in 2002 with just nine vans and has swelled to 27 vans that can now be seen rolling along the turnpike and Maine roadways on any given day. Deborah Turcotte of Bangor is a Go Maine van driver.

"I've been commuting with Go Maine for almost four years. My riders sleep, watch movies on their computers - we love Go Maine. It does add time [to the commute]. But public transportation is something that should be considered because it saves the government and riders money. We put on 43,000 miles a year on the interstate," explained Turcotte.

And that's not including the wear and tear that many of the Go Maine passenger's own vehicles avoid thanks to the vanpool.

"We had a pretty good deal going and now all of sudden it's not there anymore," said Michael Dunn, a Go Maine passenger. "There are nine to 10 of us that ride in this [Bangor] van, which means six or seven cars are off the road. I feel good about being part of a service that keeps cars off the road."

Earlier this month, The Maine Department of Transportation announced in a letter to all vanpool riders that its Go Maine vanpool service would be ending on May 1, but MDOT would continue to offer Go Maine users its carpool and other ride-sharing options and services. However, that deadline was quickly extended to Sept. 1 after commuters voiced their concerns at a MDOT committee meeting in Augusta.

Peter Mills of the Maine Turnpike Authority was at that meeting.

"The state at some level has decided they want out of this," said Mills. "There is no question there is a strong need for transit alternatives and I think the service will continue in some form."

According to Moreau, the cost of insurance, fuel and maintenance of the Go Maine vans is exceeding the amount passengers are paying monthly for use of the service.

"We thought our fares were covering the costs," said Turcotte. "A number of our rides would pay the increase to keep the service going."

But after researching its options, the MDOT has decided the state run vanpool service should end and a private vanpool company, VPSI, should be used to continue offering this commuting alternative to the public.

"It's frustrating [going with] a private van service because it's a different model; it's unpredictable. It could fluctuate month to month depending on gas prices and how many riders you have, which will be hard to budget. From what we know, our cost would go upwards of $100-$150 month," said Dunn.

Go Maine riders have until Sept. 1 to determine how they will continue to travel back and forth to work when the Go Maine vanpool service puts its wheels in park for good.

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