Since it began operating in 1999, the fare-free Island Explorer has transported more than 8 million passengers while operating in Acadia National Park and surrounding communities. In 2019, the Island Explorer set another annual record for ridership, carrying 643,870 passengers, up 3.3 percent from 2018 and 55 percent from 2010, according to National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics. The Island Explorer buses, powered by propane, are partly financed by Acadia entrance fees, the Federal Transit Administration and LL Bean. Island Explorer service on Mount Desert Island operates seasonally from June 23 through late August, and at a reduced schedule through Indigenous Peoples Day in mid-October. It starts about Memorial Day weekend on the Schoodic Peninsula to coincide with the opening of the Schoodic Woods campground.
Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, stands next to the door of an Island Explorer bus parked inside a garage at the Acadia Gateway Center in Trenton. (Photo courtesy Downeast Transportation)
Paul Murphy is executive director of Downeast Transportation, the nonprofit operator of the Island Explorer and other transit in Hancock County. Murphy, who started as operations manager in 2002 for Downeast Transportation, took up a range of issues with Acadia on My Mind, including plans for new buses, the routes, possible expansion of the Acadia National Park bus shuttle and suspension this year of an express service for bicyclists. Edited responses:
The Island Explorer does not provide a route to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the most popular attraction at Acadia National Park. We realize this decision was made before you started at Downeast Transportation. Why is there no service to Cadillac peak on the national park shuttle?
Paul Murphy: There are several reasons. A prominent one is that there are private operators who in large part make their living from taking people up Cadillac Mountain. It was a compromise at the time to keep those operators whole.
Second, it would require more robust braking and heavier duty vehicles. It has nothing to do with the propane engine. It has to do with the wear and tear on a vehicle climbing up and down the mountain all day.
Third, it would create demand that we don’t have the capacity to meet. It would be the single thing I can think of that would most impact demand. We struggle to fund what we already have in operations.
How big are the Island Explorer buses and how many passengers do they carry?
Murphy: They are about 30 feet. We can put 43 passengers on a bus including 13 who would stand. Continue reading