Some hotel and campground operators express disappointment as a driver shortage forced the suspension of a popular trolley service across York County beach towns in Maine amid the state’s unprecedented labor shortage.
The operators, whose guests enjoy using the trolley system to get around the towns, warn that traffic congestion in heavily traveled areas could worsen without public transit.
York County Community Action Corp. said it would not run three Shoreline Explorer trolley routes in Wells, Kennebunk, Ogunquit, and York. They have struggled to hire new trolley drivers and have been forced to lessen service to some routes in recent months, according to a report.
York County Community Action Transportation Director Tom Reinauer said for them to run services similar to operation before 2020 entirely, the agency would need “20 more drivers.” They would require around eight more drivers to even operate the 9 AM to 4 PM schedule they had last year but currently could not simply get the manpower needed.
“It is just really hard to find workers at this point. Not just for our services, but for hotel properties and everyone else,” Reinauer said. Hiring enough people with a commercial driver’s license has proved incredibly difficult in a competitive labor market.
“The trollies need a commercial driver’s license with a passenger endorsement,” Reinauer said. “Those drivers are a hot commodity. Everyone is competing to find qualified drivers – transit agencies, shipping companies – there are just not enough people to go around.”
Renauer said the trolley service started 17 years ago, running from mid-June to early September and carrying around 60,000 passengers per year until the pandemic began. It stopped operations in 2020 and reopened last year on a limited schedule, carrying around 17,000 passengers.
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 suspended last year, as well.
Some hotel and campground operators were surprised to learn the trollies would not transit through the busy Route 1 corridor this summer.
“That’s going to be a huge impact,” said Cheryl Sturmer of Sea-Vu, an RV campground in Wells.
Sturmer said campground guests sometimes travel without a car, relying on the trollies to get to the beach, restaurants, and shopping. She fields calls from upcoming guests inquiring about when the trollies start running and get schedule updates.
“We don’t really have a choice but to let them know that due to driver shortages, they will not be running those lines,” Sturmer said. “The limited hours last year was an impact – not having it at all is a much bigger deal, obviously.”
Ever since public-facing businesses began recovering from the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, employers across Maine and the country have struggled to hire enough workers. The shortage has affected all industries, but none more than hospitality.
More Congestion Awaits
At the Lafayette Oceanfront Resort at Wells Beach, General Manager Katy Kelly anticipated more traffic congestion and tougher beach parking if the trollies didn’t run.
“It moves people around to restaurants without clogging up the traffic – it allows people to not have cars on the road,” Kelly said. “It will make traffic much worse not having it, and it will make it more difficult for people to get to the beach.”
Despite the suspension of trolley operations, Kelly understands “the reason” for it, which is the challenge of hiring enough workers.
“It is not a money issue, it is a labor issue, and that is something we all have – it is not like I can lend them people,” she said.
As it suspends the coastal trollies, 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 that off,” Reinauer said.
This article originally appeared on Portland Press Herald.