Some of us ride transit, but all of us need it. On Tuesday, during the Bend Chamber’s What’s Brewing? Community Forum, attendees learned the ins and outs of transit as well as the vital role it plays in our community including increased livability and economic benefits.
Transit is very young in Central Oregon, explained panelist Andrew Spreadborough, executive director of Cascades East Transit. As recently as 10 years ago, there was very little public transportation, he told the audience at the Deschutes Brewery public house.
“CET is the largest transit system by far in Oregon and probably one of the larger on the west coast that does not have a dedicated funding source,” he said. “Lacking that dedicated funding, the success of the buildup was really focused on partnerships.”
Because there’s no consistent funding stream, he said there’s a lot of uncertainty and constraints. Therefore, there hasn’t been funding to increase services.
“We know that a strong vibrant transit system is good for riders, but it’s also good for the community as a whole,” he said.
For example, as the labor market tightens and commute distances increase, transit is a workforce development tool. Transit can also help provide access to recreational visitors such as the ski service to Mt. Bachelor, the Lava Butte shuttle and the airport.
“Transit solves many problems and provides community-wide benefits,” he said. “It connects people to jobs, seniors to more active lives, students to education and visitors to recreation.”
As the community grows, he said it’s important transit services also grow. The CET expansion, which is planned to launch in September, will include expanded hours of operation, frequency of stops and the number of routes.
“Moving forward, we know that we need to continue to improve and adapt the transit system as the region grows and changes. The Bend CET expansion gets us part of the way there, but it’s not the end of the line,” he said. “In thinking about growing the system, we need to hold to our principles of collaboration and community involvement.”
Amy Tykeson, co-chair of the Bend Transit Expansion board, said riding transit is all about convenience.
“It’s becoming an expected amenity in towns,” said Tykeson, who’s the managing trustee for the Tykeson Family Charitable Trust. “We’re the second fastest growing region in the state of Oregon and we need to be investing in smart growth and good transit is smart.”
CET’s expansion is a critical first step, increasing the transit program by about 30 percent. The route expansions are focused on some of the heavy core areas such as the hospital area on the east side and education hubs on the west side, she said.
Tykeson said investment in transit will expand the region’s future.
“We need to make transit more mainstream and get people to be thinking about transit in a new way; not riding transit just because they have to, but riding transit because they can and it’s convenient.”
Bend City Councilor Victor Chudowsky said over time he thinks political support will increase for transit.
Transit will be critical as the population in Bend grows. Currently Bend is like a big suburb that supports people driving from place to place, he said. By 2028 there is predicted to be a 40 percent increase in population which will create a shift towards urbanization.
“How do you deal with the congestion of having that many more people in the same space? The key is giving people a choice in how they get from place to place,” Chudowsky said.