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Coastal bus service begins

Bus service between Columbia and Clatsop county public transportation systems started Monday, March 3. The launch marks what transit officials from both areas are hoping will grow into a strong attraction for riders throughout the region, including the massive pool of potential riders in Portland.

'It will be first time in many many moons that people will be able to take a bus from Columbia County all the way out to the coast,' said Henry Heimuller, transportation manager for the Columbia County Rider.

There are still a few service gaps that need to be worked out, however, especially for south county residents.

So far, only weekday rides from Columbia County to the coast are being offered, and only twice per day - in the morning and evening.

The two services - the Columbia County Rider and the Sunset Empire Transportation District in Astoria - link together in Westport, but as yet there is no fixed-route connection between St. Helens and Rainier. Instead, a resident living in the south county would have to use the Rider's dial-a-ride service to Rainier, where a fixed-route bus would then continue on to Westport.

Heimuller said the county spoke with Oregon Department of Transportation officials as recently as Friday in an attempt to persuade the state agency to allocate more grant dollars to fill that gap in the fixed-route line.

'We have to have enough requests to demonstrate a need so that we can get the funding from the government to pay for it,' he said, adding that talks between the two groups have been ongoing for two months.

At present, the Columbia County Rider system is funded through predominately government grants, with some basic operational expense covered by rider fares. Early talks among county personnel have the potential of growing into a push for establishing a transit district, and a study expected later this year is likely to gauge public response to that proposal.

Without the fixed-route service, it costs around $15 to travel from Scappoose to Westport, where an additional ticket would have to be purchased to continue on with the Sunset Empire line to the coast.

Sunset Empire runs from Astoria to as far south as south Cannon Beach, where it connects with the Tillamook transit district, called The Wave.

'Once the people get from here to Astoria, they can go to Tillamook, Manzanita and beyond,' Heimuller said.

The goal for both Columbia County and the Sunset Empire organizers is to work out a system so that both sides honor each other's fares under a reciprocal arrangement.

'This is just step one,' said Cindy Howe, executive director for Sunset Empire. 'This is just getting it into the people's heads that it's out there.'

Howe said many of the riders on her end want seamless passage to Portland for medical or veteran's service trips.

'To have that connection with a reasonably straight shot to Portland is critical,' Howe said.

Howe said she is excited about the possibility of turning the Rider into a transit district.

'That is the thing that will make this take off,' she said.

For more information about routes, services and fares, go to

www.columbiacountyrider.com, or call 1-888-462-6526.

Other new services

Coastal service wasn't the only sign of growth for the Rider on Monday.

A morning bus was added to the increasingly popular St. Helens-to-Portland ride, making a total of eight round-trips per day. The new bus departs St. Helens at 7 a.m.

Heimuller said it has been difficult keeping up with demand for the St. Helens-to-Portland service.

Other service extensions include a fixed-route ride in the north county from Rainier or Westport to Longview, Wash., where the Rider connects to that city's transit district, called the Community Urban Bus Service, or CUBS.