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Orono’s lack of reliable public transportation leaves students in the dust

A lot of students at the University of Maine don’t have their own vehicles. While the university claims that this isn’t a problem, the public transportation advertised to students is extremely lacking. 

On the FAQ page of the UMaine website, one of the questions they answer is whether first years are allowed to bring cars to campus. The answer is yes, but UMaine also says that a car isn’t necessary and then provides links to the Community Connector and the Orono Black Bear Express, both of which are free to students. 

“The Community Connector goes to Orono, Old Town, Brewer, Bangor, and Hampden. Black Bear Orono Express provides free transportation from campus to downtown Orono,” the website says.

However, when you go to the websites themselves and look at the hours these buses run, students may be less than thrilled with the reality of these services. The Express buses run from 6:50 a.m. to 5:50 p.m and the Community Connector buses run from 6:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.

In addition to this, there’s an update at the bottom of the Community Connector page about this bus service. 

“UPDATED 5/31/22: Due to an on-going driver shortage, the Community Connector will temporarily discontinue Saturday service, until further notice, beginning Saturday, June 18, 2022. This applies to both fixed route and ADA paratransit service,” the website says. 

With both of these services, the times that students normally want or need to leave campus aren’t during their hours of operation. Neither offer any services on the weekends, and if students are attending all their classes, that leaves very little time to travel anywhere besides Orono. 

It appears that the Community Connector used to run on Saturday, but the bus service specifically for UMaine students, the Black Bear Express, appears to have never run on the weekends. If UMaine wants to encourage students to explore the local area, they should provide a bus schedule that doesn’t require them to skip classes to go anywhere.

The times of the last bus run also poses the possibility of students being stranded away from campus. For a lot of students, especially those with anxiety, this may heavily decrease the likelihood of them using the bus. I know personally that if I had to rely on public transportation to be able to get back home at night, I would be terrified of missing the bus and constantly be worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it back home. 

This reality is starkly contrasted with what the Office of Sustainability says about the options for alternative transportation for UMaine students. Both of these services are listed by this office as a great way to be more sustainable.  

“Using alternative transportation has tons of benefits for you and the community! From reduced energy use and improved air quality to lower commuting costs and stress reduction, alternative transportation is part of happy, healthy, and sustainable lifestyles,” the website says. 

While this seems great, some students have expressed that using these services is in fact very stressful. Part of this is because of the times the buses run and the fear of missing them, but these students have also said that, in their experience, the buses are rarely on schedule. This causes students to spend more time waiting for the bus to arrive and be even more stressed about arriving at the bus stop at just the right time to be able to catch the bus either to town or back to campus. 

There are other options for students to leave campus like walking or calling an Uber or Lyft, however these services require students to use their own money. And, as everyone knows, college students are traditionally broke because of the high cost of attending college. Additionally, depending on the time of day or night, you may not be able to get a driver. If you’re stranded because you missed the bus and it’s nighttime, that could be an unsafe situation to be in. I know many women and female-presenting individuals don’t want to take the risk of being stranded at night, especially alone, and would be even less likely to use these services because of this possibility. 

With all of these flaws to public transportation, it’s no wonder why not many students use them. While UMaine may claim that they’re just not taking advantage of the services they provide, many students can argue that UMaine isn’t doing enough to make these services usable. 

This seems to be yet another instance of UMaine saying they’re looking out for the interests of the students and yet not taking their opinions and concerns into consideration when making decisions that affect the student body.

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