Eastern Oregon public transit helps communities thrive
Oregon Department of Transportation technical assistance and support is helping ensure healthy rural transit operations.
In the “old days,” public transit in Harney County was restricted to a dial-a-ride service related to the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center. In 2004, the system had three buses, their drivers and one dispatcher. Folks in the area called it the “senior bus.”
By 2017, the service was delivering some 4,000 rides per month in a county with a population of 5,000. It morphed into a fixed route system with a regular, dependable schedule. Soon, more buses were added and the bus barn began bursting at the seams.
Angie Lamborn, executive director of the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center, invited ODOT Regional Transit Coordinator Frank Thomas for a technical assistance visit.
“She was six or seven months from having to make cuts, and was seeking advice on how to prioritize aspects of the service and gracefully unwind others,” Thomas said. “That was alarming.”
In stepped Oregonians and the state’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund – a payroll tax of .01 percent on wages paid to Oregon employees. Lamborn and company applied those funds to new bus bays and fixed routes, and things quickly improved.
“By the close of fiscal year 2018, the projected budget deficit had largely been resolved,” said Thomas. “Harney County was able to sustain the route deviation service in fiscal year 2019 on a fare-free basis. By design it ran six days a week and served the nearby Burns Paiute Tribe’s reservation in coordination with its Tribal Transit program. In fiscal year 2020, the fund enabled Harney County to generate the local match necessary to complete its bus barn expansion project.”
“The partnership and support from ODOT and the education and time given by Frank has been invaluable,” said Lamborn. “It feels comforting knowing we have the support and team to be successful.”
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