TRENTON — On Friday, June 17, Downeast Transportation held an event to introduce four new commuter buses to its lineup.
They will be replacing four older buses that are no longer in good enough working condition to remain in service. The upgrade is good news for employees of The Jackson Laboratory.
Although the new buses will be running on public commuter routes and are open to public use, they will primarily cater to Jackson Lab employees, providing transportation from various locations to the lab’s campuses in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor.
The new buses will operate on the same routes and schedules as the old ones.
“They will not impact what our routes are or where we go,” said Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation. “What they will do is replace aging buses that are long overdue for replacement, and hopefully make our service more attractive to both JAX employees and members of the general public.”
The lab has been working with Downeast Transportation since 1985, and this longtime partnership benefits both organizations.
Murphy spoke about the benefits of the commuter bus service, and why it is so important that his organization coordinates with the lab. The majority of Downeast Transportation’s daily commuter passengers work at the lab.
“I would say it’s over 90 percent,” said Murphy.
“Our routes are geared to their work shifts,” he added, “and their work shifts are, you know, not the same as lots of other people’s.”
The lab incentivizes its employees to use the bus service and offers payment plans.
“They have a paycheck withdrawal system, so people don’t have to pay us to ride the bus” when they get on, Murphy said. “The lab takes their subscription out of their paycheck and in turn compensates us.”
LuAnn Ballesteros, vice president of external and government affairs at Jackson Lab, spoke about the value the partnership with Downeast Transportation has to the lab and its employees. She noted that non-lab employees also use the service.
“Jackson Lab employees aren’t the only ones who ride the bus,” Ballesteros said. “Our employees come from 123 different towns in 13 counties, so we’re probably the largest workforce that uses the buses, but I do think it’s advantageous to others.”
“This is the most sophisticated workforce transportation system in the state,” she added.
The commuter bus service is a money-saver for those who work at the lab but do not live on Mount Desert Island or nearby. Figures provided by the lab showed that employees who have a daily round-trip commute of roughly 100 miles can spend as much $14,000 every year on gas.
In comparison, employees who use the bus service spend $20 per week on transportation costs, which comes out to just over $1,000 per year.
“It’s an extremely valuable resource to be able to provide employees easy ways to get to work,” said Ed Noonan, the lab’s manager of facilities operations. “They save gas, they save money.”
Even those who do not work for the lab, or ride Downeast Transportation buses, benefit from reduced traffic on and off of Mount Desert Island.
“We did a count one day, this is going back 15 years ago, of cars coming on to the island in the morning, at like 7:00 to 7:30 or 8:00, eighty percent of them were single-passenger automobiles,” Murphy said. “So, if we’re taking say 100 passengers a day, that’s 80 cars per day off the road.”