The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Audrey Caro Gomez
Of The New Era 

Shuttle director: Clear Lake bus ridership numbers disappointingly low

 

July 20, 2016

Photo by Audrey Caro Gomez KEN BRONSON speaks to County Commissioners, John Lindsey, far right, and Roger Nyquist regarding the Linn Shuttle.

Despite the low cost and easy access, ridership on the Linn County Shuttle from Sweet Home to Clear Lake has been low.

Ken Bronson, who manages the shuttle, expressed frustration at the lack of ridership during an update on the program to the Linn County Board of Commissioners on July 12.

The route was started in response to the Livability Initiative in Sweet Home, he said.

“A week ago Sunday, I took my bike up and I rode all the way up to Sahalie Falls on the bus, got off there, spent the rest of the day riding, and I caught the 4 p.m. at Mountain House,” Bronson said. “At the falls, you can’t even get in there. There’s so many people there in the afternoon. At Clear Lake, you can’t even get in the facility. It’s just a traffic maze getting in and out.”

The full parking lots make it difficult for buses to turn around, said Commissioner Will Tucker, and finding alternatives to turn around is a challenge.

Tucker said he has ridden the shuttle a couple of times to engage in friendly competitive fishing with colleagues and friends.

“The bus itself has one or two people on it and all those cars are there,” Tucker said. “Wouldn’t it have been nice to have shared some of those rides?”

That’s the frustration, Bronson said: “How do we accomplish that?”

The problem isn’t just crowded parking lots, it’s the cost of transportation.

“We don’t want to be in a situation, and I guess, it’s the city of Sweet Home, not exactly us, except collectively we’re spending a whole bunch of money - $100, $200 a ride - to take two people up to Clear Lake twice a week, so Commissioner Tucker will have someone to fish with,” said Commissioner Roger Nyquist.

Funding for the route came from the City of Sweet Home budget, Bronson said.

In May of 2015, The New Era reported that the $6,000 in funding for two buses and drivers is coming from a variety of sources – $2,000 from a Rural Transportation Assistance (5311) Grant, $1,500 from unused funds provided by the City of Sweet Home for the Downtown Shopper service, and $2,500 donated by Senior Center members.

“What’s your time frame and what’s your analysis of pulling the plug on that service?” Nyquist asked.

Bronson said he is committed to running the shuttle this season, which will end Aug. 2 due to the closure of Highway 20 for repairs to Sheep Creek Bridge.

“If you build it and they don’t use it, well, I’m not going to run that,” Bronson said.”

“Right, and nothing’s harmed in finding out what the market is for it,” Nyquist said.

Linn Shuttle update

Bronson said the regular shuttle bus service running from Sweet Home to Albany and back, is “in essence, the backbone of the county system.

“We have a contract with the city of Sweet Home for city of Sweet Home and surrounding area programs and we also provide for Linn County DHS, the DD transportation for about 50 clients a day, as well.”

Bronson said funding comes from several sources: federal rural transporation grants, state Special Transportation Fund money, county funds, and partnerships with Linn-Benton Community College.

“Of course, there’s also money from the city of Sweet Home and there’s bus fares,” Bronson said. “So it’s quite a complex thing, and it’s my job of meshing it all together and making it all work.”

Ridership has been down over the last few years, Bronson said.

“It kind of follows with the economy,” he said.

The Dial-a-Bus and the Sweet Home programs have actually been growing a bit, he added.

A shopper program was started in Sweet Home two years ago in October.

That has been slowly growing, Bronson said.

“It’s a fixed route that deviates, that runs three days a week,” Bronson said. “You don’t have to have an appointment, like our Dial-a-Bus does, which is always full, because there’s only one Dial-a-Bus and it covers the whole Sweet Home School District.”

Bronson thanked the commissioners for hiring Mark Volmert, Linn County Special/Rural Transportation Coordinator.

“We appreciate it too,” Nyquist said. “You know you’ve done the right thing when you get you an update and you can’t understand most of the technical stuff, you know that you’ve got the right guy in the right place.”

In a report submitted to the commissioners, Volmert said in the past, the majority of shuttle riders were LBCC students and staff members. Now more than half are members of the general public.

They are “working with the Linn County TAC and LBCC on schedules and taking into consideration the development of the LBCC health services facility currently under construction,” according to Volmert’s report.

Also, they are planning to increase “links between LBCC’s Lebanon and Albany campuses.”

 
 
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