The Shoreline Explorer has suspended much of its service for 2022 due to a lack of drivers. The suspension includes the Blue 4b route, which ran from the Lower Village of Kennebunk to Wells. Photo courtesy of York County Community Action Corporation

A driver shortage will force the suspension of a popular streetcar service in York County’s beach towns this summer amid Maine’s unprecedented labor shortage.

The news disappointed some hotel and campground owners whose customers like to use the tram to get around. Without a public transport option, traffic congestion in the busy area could worsen, hoteliers have warned.

York County Community Action Corp. said it would not operate three Shoreline Explorer streetcar routes in Wells, Kennebunk, Ogunquit and York. The nonprofit has struggled to hire tram drivers and has been forced to cut service on some of its other routes in recent months, he said.

To run the full service that was running before 2020, the agency would need 20 additional drivers, said Tom Reinauer, transportation manager for York County Community Action. To run even the truncated 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule he had last year would require about eight drivers that he just can’t hire right now, Reinauer added.

“It is really difficult to find workers at this stage. Not just for our services, but for hotel properties and everyone,” Reinauer said. Hiring enough people with commercial driver’s licenses has proven to be incredibly difficult in a competitive job market.

“Carts require a commercial driver’s license with a passenger endorsement,” Reinauer said. “These pilots are a rare commodity. Everyone is scrambling to find qualified drivers – transit agencies, ferry companies – there just aren’t enough people to go around.

Passenger trolleys generally start operating in mid-June and stop in early September. The service started 17 years ago and carried around 60,000 passengers a year until the pandemic, Reinauer said. It did not operate in 2020, and last year it did so on a limited schedule and carried around 17,000 people.

The suspended services are the Blue Line, which runs from Kennebunk’s Lower Village to Wells with stops at Wells Harbor and Crescent Beach, and the Purple Line, which runs through Ogunquit from Perkins Cove to York’s Short Sands Beach. The Purple Line was also suspended last year.

Some hotel and campground operators were surprised to learn that carts would not be crossing the busy Highway 1 corridor this summer.

“It’s going to have a huge impact,” said Cheryl Sturmer, at Sea-Vu, an RV campground in Wells.

Guests who stay at the campground sometimes come without a car and rely on carts to get to the beach, restaurants and shops, Sturmer said. She answers calls from upcoming guests who want to know when the carts start operating and get schedule updates.

“We really have no choice but to let them know that due to driver shortages they won’t be operating those lines,” Sturmer said. “Last year’s limited hours had an impact – having none at all is far more important, obviously.”

Since public companies began to recover from the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, employers in Maine and across the country have struggled to hire enough workers. The shortage has affected all industries, but none more so than hospitality.

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At the Lafayette Oceanfront Resort in Wells Beach, general manager Katy Kelly predicted more traffic jams and harder parking on the beach if carts weren’t working.

“It moves people to restaurants without clogging traffic — it keeps people off the road with cars,” Kelly said. “It will make traffic much worse without having it, and it will make it harder for people to get to the beach.”

Even though losing the carts is a blow, Kelly understands the reason – everyone is struggling to find enough workers.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about the job, and it’s something we all have – it’s not like I can loan them people,” he said. she stated.

As it suspends coastal carts, York County Community Action will double summer service on its Orange Line, which runs from Wells to Sanford, including a stop at Wells Beach.

“We should be able to pull it off,” Reinauer said.


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