More than 130 people gathered to hear a panel of insightful people offer tips and advice to businesses on how they might mitigate the impact of Portland’s traffic congestion. The situation is becoming more acute as new hotels, office complexes and other facilities are sprouting on the Portland peninsula.
Some businesses, such as Wex, MEMIC and MaineHealth have already taken initiatives to help their employees avoid commuting in their personal vehicles. MaineHealth provides free bus passes to employees, and bike racks and showers to encourage alternative modes of transportation. It was hoping for 1,600 bus trips per month when it rolled out the bus pass program last summer, but is now recording 4,000 per month.
Wex is shuttling employees to its new headquarters from its South Portland offices and satellite parking lots. It also offers employees $1,000 per year not to drive into their downtown offices. MEMIC offers free Metro bus passes and recently installed a bike rack for employees.
Panelists Chris Chop of MaineHealth, Kristina Egan of Greater Portland Council of Governments and Greg Day of Waterstone Properties, developers of Rock Row, shared their views and answered questions from the audience.
Other questions have been forwarded to transportation officials, and their answers will be distributed via email to the event attendees. Additionally, the Press Herald plans a second transportation forum later this year to address some of the policy questions we couldn’t get to at the breakfast forum.
Among the breakfast forum takeaways:
• Businesses could consider applying for Federal Commuter Tax Credit, which awards tax credits to employers providing alternative commuting choices to employees. The $260 monthly credit is more than sufficient to cover an annual pass on any of the local public transportation options.
• The Go Maine ride share program is alive and well, now administered by the Maine Turnpike Authority. The program matches people with similar commuting patterns to form carpools. An added benefit is the program now will assure a participant a free ride home in case of an emergency.
• Transit App can be downloaded on any smartphone for free. It provides real time data for bus routes, train schedules and other public transportation options in cities around the world.
• This summer, the city hopes to launch a pilot program using driverless technology to run a shuttle along Commercial Street that will link to Park ‘n’ Rides in the area.
• Access to transit helps elevate a real estate development, especially one with multiple uses. It’s why Rock Row was designed with a hub for bus and rail access, as a means for people to get there as easily as possible, said Day.
• Updated signaling that monitors traffic flow and adjusts signaling accordingly has already been rolled out on Forest Avenue; is underway on Washington Avenue, and should start soon on Franklin Street.
More about the panelists:
Chris Chop is program manager of MaineHealth’s commuter choice program. The Brunswick native spent six years as a transit consultant for an environmental energy and planning firm. He joined MaineHealth in July 2018 and works to improve alternative commuting options for MaineHealth employees in Portland. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in international relations and a master’s in urban and regional planning from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
Kristina Egan has been the executive director of Greater Portland Council of Governments since 2016. Previously, she was the director of Transportation for Massachusetts, a coalition that advocates for policies that are innovative, sustainable and environmentally friendly. She also was a Freeport town councilor for four years. She holds a master’s degree in international economics and international relations from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University.
Greg Day, a director with Boston-based Waterstone Properties, is responsible for new development and special projects. He leads the effort to expand public transit matters at Rock Row. He has extensive experience executing public private partnerships including working with the U.S. Department of Defense to redevelop active military bases and higher education institutions to implement campus master plans. He received a degree in finance from Boston College and a master’s in real estate from New York University.