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Buses will soon connect Outer Cape

By JASON KOLNOS, STAFF WRITER | December 16, 2004

HYANNIS - Twelve buses will be ready to roll across seven Lower and Outer Cape towns in the summer of 2006, after the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority's advisory board endorsed a mass transit project yesterday morning.

The "Flex Route" service will be the first of its kind to link Harwich, Brewster, Wellfleet, Orleans, Truro, Eastham and Provincetown.

Dozens of community leaders were beaming yesterday after hearing the news that an easier way to get from here to there on the Lower Cape is on the horizon.

"This is the light at the end of the tunnel," said longtime public transportation champion Mary Lou Petitt, Eastham's representative on the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates. Petitt and her group, the Lower/Outer Cape Community Coalition, have joined others to lobby for better transportation options for nearly 15 years.

"To have a critical issue on the agenda for so long and to finally see it come to fruition is truly rewarding," she said about the project that has been four years in the making.

Flexible routes

The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority will operate the Flex Route buses, which will travel along flexible routes and be able to divert up to a mile from the main roads, such as Routes 6, 6A and 28, to pick up people who call ahead. Buses will also stop at locations such as Nauset Regional High School in North Eastham, the Stop & Shop Plaza in Orleans, the Harwich Community Center and some of the area's larger medical facilities.

The year-round buses will most likely run every half hour until 10 p.m. each day during the summer. Throughout the fall, winter and spring, the buses will operate hourly, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and until 10 p.m. on weekends.

Advocates for the Flex Route system said the positive affect that a reliable and affordable bus system will have on the area is limitless.

Workers without cars will no longer have to rely on bicycles to get to their jobs. Parents will be able to avoid chauffeur duty if their children need to get to an after-school event. And senior citizens, many of whom rely on others to get to shopping centers and medical appointments, will have an alternative.

"I'm very happy to support such a wonderful idea and I look forward to using it," said 75-year-old Gregg Lawton of Orleans. Lawton, who is disabled and uses a mobile scooter to get around, said he has to pay others to drive him around because he doesn't have a car.

"I would love to get out more and go shopping. I'm very excited about all the possibilities," he said.

Wellfleet residents Paul Webber and his wife, Shirl, both 77, anticipate that they will try the bus service as well.

"I'm looking forward to the first time where we can go out to Provincetown for dinner and come back the same night," Paul Webber said.

The Flex Route service will also make connections with the Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway buses, the CCRTA's Hyannis-to-Orleans bus route, the Truro-to-Provincetown shuttle as well as the Provincetown ferry to Boston.

The buses will travel along the main roads of most towns, hitting various commercial centers and landmarks along the way. This differs from the CCRTA's B-bus service, because it will run more frequently and people won't have to give more than two hours advanced notice to arrange a ride.

"A huge step"

"This a huge step forward for the Lower Cape and the Cape in general," said Kyle Hinkle, director for the Orleans Chamber of Commerce.

Using buses could help alleviate traffic congestion problems that have plagued this area for years. Businesses will see it as a boon when more people are attracted to commerce centers, she said.

The Cape Cod National Seashore will supply $3.4 million in federal funds to buy the buses. State and federal grants will cover 65 percent of the annual $1.5 million operating costs, fares will cover approximately 15 percent, while participating towns will make up the remaining 20 percent.

Working together U.S. Sens. Edward Kennedy, John Kerry and U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, all D-Mass., secured $3 million to fund the construction of a new operations center and bus repair facility in Hyannis for the transit authority, which will eventually house the clean-fuel, low-floor buses.

Selectmen from each of the supporting towns agreed to pay an annual share of the service's cost, which will be based on population and projected rider participation. Fees range from $16,145 for Truro to $62,303 for Harwich. This will add roughly $5 a year to the property tax bills of residents in the towns served by the service, according to estimates by officials working on the project.

Though he has already given presentations at more than 40 public meetings, Clay Schofield, a Cape Cod Commission transit planner who has spearheaded this effort, called this a victory but said there's still plenty of work to be done.

Over the next year, public transportation experts will devise a dispatch system that will help track who needs to be picked up, where they need to go and how long the trip will take. Also, they will need to set fares, which are estimated to start at $1 per ride, with a 50 cent charge each time riders cross a town line. Offering monthly passes to frequent riders will also be discussed, and public comment is welcomed.

Teenagers are another group that will benefit from the service.

"I have lots of friends who live in Wellfleet that I'd go visit," said Brian Friedman, 15, a freshman at Nauset Regional High School. "We usually rely on the late bus, but then we don't have rides home. This will give us a lot more options."

From The Cape Cod Times

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