Linn Shuttle bus to offer Saturday trips to Albany

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Linn Shuttle’s bus services in east Linn County are getting a big boost starting this month, thanks to state transportation money.

“Remember that one-tenth of 1 percent that was coming out of your paycheck last year?” asked Linn Shuttle Manager Ken Bronson, referring to a statewide payroll tax that kicked in July 1, 2018. “It’s finally coming back.”

The payroll tax was part of a massive transportation infrastructure spending package that Oregon lawmakers passed in 2017 with bipartisan support, raising the state gas tax and vehicle fees and imposing a small tax on new car sales.

Employers are required to automatically deduct the .1 percent tax from their workers’ pay. When initiated last year, the tax was expected to pump $110 million a year into the operating budgets of public transportation agencies across Oregon.

Locally, that means three phases of improved service for Linn Shuttle, which provides bus service to the entire east Linn County, Bronson said.

The first step, starting July 6, will be to add Saturday service from Sweet Home to Albany, with stops in Lebanon. The buses will run six times a day between Sweet Home and Albany, starting at Hoy’s Hardware and ending at Winco/Kohls shopping center, which is across the street from Costco.

Other stops will include Foster Mall, the Senior Center and the intersection of 13th and Kalmia streets in Sweet Home; Walmart, the intersection of Park and Oak streets, and Linn-Benton Community College’s Lebanon campus; and LBCC, the train station, Heritage Mall and the intersection of 1st and Washington streets in Albany before returning to the Lebanon stops en route to the finish at Sweet Home Senior Center.

Buses will start at Hoy’s at 7:10, 9:40 and 11:40 a.m. and at 1:10, 2:40 and 4:40 p.m. The entire round-trip run will take just over three hours.

Bronson noted that the Albany train station serves as a hub for other buses, as well as rail and airport transit services.

“All the buses go there,” he said.

Linn Shuttle’s regular daily services will continue as usual on weekdays, with seven routes a day, plus an express route to LBCC, he said.

Linn Shuttle bus ridership has held steady over the past year, he said, after a 10-percent jump in 2017-18.

“We were the only transportation program in the Mid-Valley that had an increase,” Bronson said. Student ridership has decreased over the past year, from about 50 percent to 28, but the general public numbers have increased, he said.

“We’re just trying to make things better.”

The second phase of increased service will double the number of runs, with earlier and later start and finish times, by Sweet Home Shopper starting Aug. 12.

The local commuter bus stays in town, with stops at the Senior Center, Sweet Home High School, Sweet Home Junior High, Stonebrook and Linn Haven apartments, Wiley Creek residential community, Thriftway and Safeway, Foster Mall and Shea Point, and various intersections throughout town on Main and Long streets.

Also, on Saturdays, shopper buses make stops at the Foster Lake parking lot on the corner of Poplar Street and 60th Avenue, at Shea Point and at Lewis Creek Park to provide recreational access to the lake.

The Shopper bus currently runs four trips a day, between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will expand to nine trips a day, between 6 a.m. and 8:31 p.m.

Bronson said state law requires that bus service be available to high school students and so he’s trying to target “needs” – before- and after-school transportation, academic, athletic and social – “all those things so kids in town can get to school and get home.”

“We want to do our part to help kids here,” Bronson said. “We can combine with what’s in the law for students with what we have for the general public.”

He noted that the start date, Aug. 12, is the week before fall sports practices start at the high school.

The third phase increased service, starting one week before LBCC and Oregon State University begin their fall quarters, will expand Linn Shuttle service to the college from seven routes a day, plus the express bus, to 10 daily routes on weekdays.

The first route of the day will continue to start at 6:10 a.m. at Hoy’s, but the service will be extended later to accommodate evening classes at LBCC, returning to Sweet Home about 8:45 p.m.

“The last route of the day will be timed with classes getting out at Lebanon LBCC,” Bronson said. “We’re still working on the exact time. Our goal is to add frequency of service.”

The goal of the tax and the increased service is to help people without other means of transportation, he said, noting that Linn Shuttle has increased from four routes a day when he took over nine years ago to a much more robust schedule.

“We’re just trying to make it a better service,” Bronson said.