Central Oregon

Central Oregon's bus system on shaky ground

COIC committee ponders new funding sources

Central Oregon bus system searches for new funding

BEND, Ore. - For most of us, a trip between Bend and Redmond takes about 20 minutes.

But for Karena Bray of Redmond, just traveling a few miles means hours of waiting for a bus, her only mode of transportation.

And she's not looking forward to winter.

"I have a toddler, and so having to wait in the cold for two hours is really, really hard," Bray said Monday.

Bray said she would like to see more routes added -- but right now, the future of Cascades East Transit is unclear.

"Unstable, insecure -- it's cobbled together" -- words Central Oregon Intergovernmental  Council spokesman Scott Aycock uses to describe Cascades East Transit's funding.

Aycock said most public transportation systems in Oregon are funded through permanent, dedicated sources, but that's not the case here.

Instead, dozens of sources from federal to state and local funding keep CET going year-to-year-. And while Aycock says more people are riding each year, the funding sources keep dwindling.

Last year, rural routes were cut. More could be eliminated this year.

"When we are forced to cut, we look at ridership, and we cut the services that are being used the least," Aycock said.

He said while Bend routes wouldn't be cut, rural routes could be in jeopardy, if new funding sources aren't identified.

Now COIC is searching for that  game-changer -- permanent funding it hopes could allow for added routes, instead of making cuts.

"Property tax measures, payroll taxes, utility fees, room taxes" are among the possibilities, Aycock said. "We're also looking at a variety of partnerships, particularly educational institutions like COCC and OSU-Cascades and the St. Charles Health System."

Aycock says about $3.5 million a year in permanent funding would keep the wheels turning. But $6.5 million a year would allow for expanded services -- and could make riding the bus more popular.

"We're in the chicken and the egg," Aycock said. "We can't provide it if we're not funded to do it. If we're not providing it, people don't see that it may be useful to them."

Aycock said right now, people who aren't forced to ride the bus won't do so -- he said it's simply too inconvenient for many people. He said COIC wants to make riding the bus easier for everyone.

But those without choices just want to spend less time waiting.

"It feels like you kind of get stuck in a cycle," Bray said.  "You can't get more employment unless there's more options for riding the bus, and unless you get more employment, you can't get a car."

COIC's Cascades East Transit Funding Committee meets again on Friday at 9 a.m. at Redmond City Hall to discuss the funding options.

Aycock said adding any type of new tax is unpopular for the time being, and the  group is leaning toward forming more partnerships to secure additional funding.

More information on the system can be found at: http://www.cascadeseasttransit.com/

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