Although the large white bus with the blue and green lettering “Lakes Region Explorer,” spotted traveling along the Route 302 corridor is a familiar sight, some may be surprised to know about the many service options it delivers. This service is operated by Regional Transportation Program (RTP) and makes designated stops in Bridgton, Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham and Portland. “In addition to the specific stop areas, The Lakes Region Explorer will also stop anywhere along Route 302, as long as it is a safe place for the rider to board or depart from the bus and does not obstruct traffic flow,” explained Belinda Hutchinson, RTP’s Transportation Supervisor.
A one-way trip costs only $3 while children and senior citizens 65 and older pay $2. Monthly pass discounts are available. The Explorer provides four round trips each weekday along with Saturday service between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The bus is equipped with 24 seats plus accommodations for two wheelchairs, along with a free wi-fi connection for those who need to use their laptops; a bike rack; a GPS tracker system for riders waiting for the bus; and emergency alerts related to delays and weather cancellations.
The Maine Department of Transportation applies federal transportation funds to support this public service. The five towns served by the Explorer also make annual financial contributions.
Aside from operating the Explorer, RTP has provided demand/response service with its buses, vans and volunteer drivers for senior, disabled and low-income residents of Cumberland County since 1976. Hutchinson stated that “RTP provides a ‘Shopper Shuttle’ for seniors each Friday morning on a small eight-passenger van that travels from Bridgton to Windham, stopping at places such as Windham’s Walmart, Reny’s and grocery stores.”
“RTP also provides demand/response services for those who can’t drive themselves,” stated Deb Fritzson, RTP’s Finance Manager. “In some situations, this requires going to an individual’s home and providing personalized rides for those who require life-saving medical needs such as dialysis and chemotherapy. However, as a non-profit, there are limited resources and funds, and this is where we highly value volunteer drivers, especially in the Lakes Region Area.”
Fritzson continued, “Can you imagine not owning a vehicle, having to go to dialysis or chemotherapy and trying to get yourself to public transportation before and after the appointment. In these circumstances, it could be a matter of life and death. We will be there to help these individuals despite the challenges we face. This is the reason why volunteer drivers are so important to RTP.”
RTP receives many transportation requests to doctor, physical therapy, and other medical appointments on a daily basis from many who are elderly, veterans and those facing an extreme health crisis. As the population continues to age, the requests are increasing. But, unfortunately, volunteerism has plummeted in the past 10 years. “When I began my role at RTP nine years ago, there were approximately 75 volunteer drivers in RTP’s volunteer driver pool,” Hutchinson said. “Today – there are only 20.”
What many may not know is that volunteering with RTP is easy. An individual gets to set their own schedule, receive free training, gets to choose as few or as many riders as they prefer and how far they wish to travel while receiving a reimbursement rate of 44¢ per mile. “That money can add up,” stated Fritzson. In addition to the reimbursement the volunteers receive, they will immediately see the positive effects of their efforts for a good cause. “Helping those who are most vulnerable is probably the greatest benefit to be a volunteer driver for RTP,” Fritzson said.
Current volunteers have stated that socialization is a key reason why they have joined the RTP team. “One volunteer who retired recently told me he was getting really bored since he stopped working,” Hutchinson said. “He said he likes being around people, and volunteering gives him the opportunity to not only help others, but to help himself. At the end of each day, he feels as if he has accomplished something good, developed a friendship – and best of all – is no longer bored.”
To be a volunteer driver, you must pass a criminal history and DMV check, have had a license in the U.S. for at least five years and drive a safe vehicle. Free training will be provided. Whether you are retired, a student, or someone looking for a way to give back to their community and want to join the RTP volunteer team, call today 207-615-0393 or email: email@example.com. For more information about RTP, the Lakes Region Explorer, or other services RTP provides, contact Hutchinson at 207-615-0391 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also peruse their website at rtprides.org or find us on Facebook.