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GroveLink celebrates a year of growth


Some would-be riders still finding out about Forest Grove bus service

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JILL REHKOPF SMITH - Max Daley, 91, moved to Forest Grove a month ago and began using GroveLink every Friday -- and plans to start using it even more, he said. Driver Paul Davis helps him into the bus.Teenagers heading for McDonalds. Latino families traveling from the east side of town to the west. Seniors. Commuters. Swimmers. Shoppers.

These are the many different people who ride GroveLink, Forest Grove’s local-transit service, which is about to celebrate its first anniversary.

The little green and white buses began running a year ago Aug. 19, providing 18 rides that first day.

In less than two months, ridership had more than doubled, from 142 the first week to 423 in early October. By the end of the school year, weekly ridership numbers had topped 700.

That may not sound like much in a city of 22,000, but the crew at Ride Connection — the transportation nonprofit which runs the weekday service — think it’s great for the first year, especially since some people are still just finding out about the service.

One such recent call was from a woman in a local assisted-living facility, said Shaun Feiler, the dispatcher and scheduler for GroveLink. “Her story was she hasn’t gone anywhere and she’s lived there since November,” he said.

In addition, “I know there’s a ton of (riders) getting to the TriMet bus,” Feiler said. “That’s humongous.” Many of them make the TriMet connection at Safeway, one of the route’s most popular stops, he said.

After a drop in weekly ridership when school ended, GroveLink has mostly remained in the 500 to 600 range throughout the summer, peaking (so far) at 689 in mid-July.

The summertime drop might be a yearly trend, said Lydia Corran, Ride Connection’s outreach director, “but we’re very confident that it will go back up, and it’s not so low that we’re concerned.”

Driver Paul Davis said his ridership hasn’t dipped so much as changed. Instead of students going to high school, he’s had young female “champions” from the Forest Grove swim team catching the bus at 6:37 a.m. to get to the city’s aquatic center.

“To me, anyone who’s in high school who gets up that early is a champion,” Davis said.

There’s also the young mom who gets on with her baby at 6:34 a.m. to catch the TriMet bus to beauty school in Hillsboro.

And John Abel, the other morning driver, figured out how to connect with more commuters on GroveLink’s East Loop, where ridership consistently lags behind the West Loop.

Abel realized GroveLink’s morning Yew Street stop was just missing the commuters getting off a TriMet bus a few minutes later and (previously) walking to their jobs. Now that he times it so he connects with them, the number of morning commuters has risen from “only a few” a month ago to a dozen, including four Viasystems employees.

Abel also picks up McMenamins employees, Safeway shoppers, seniors and his share of teenagers heading for the pool.

In the afternoons, Driver Mario Tellez ferries teenagers to the store or to get ice cream, he said.

Wednesdays draw many riders who plan to attend the farmers market in downtown Forest Grove but who head in a few hours early to run errands beforehand, Tellez said.

He also knows a few riders at Quail Run Estates who depend on GroveLink to get to Bi-Mart or Safeway for their medicine.

“There’s been such an overall support or buzz about GroveLink,” Corran said. “People are seeing that even if they’re not benefitting from GroveLink, they know someone who is.”

Few riding, but many supporting

The just-released results of a new citizen survey indicate Forest Grove’s local-transit service is still not widely used.

In answer to the question, “How often do you ride GroveLink,” nine people said “daily,” 13 said “once or twice weekly,” 40 said “once or twice monthly” and 624 of the 686 who answered the question (91 percent) said “never.”

But 485 of those people had at least heard of GroveLink.

And even with the relatively low ridership numbers, when people were asked whether the city should “promote sustainable practices even if it means increases to cost of service,” 58 percent said “yes” when it came to GroveLink, with 42 percent opposing.

A majority of respondents opposed cost increases for three other sustainable practices, including curbside food recycling (70 percent “no” to 30 percent “yes”), a plastic-bag ban ( 64 percent “no” to 36 percent “yes”) and more community gardens (53 percent “no” to 47 percent “yes”).

LED street lighting was the only other sustainable practice for which respondents were willing to pay more to promote (55 percent “yes to 45 percent “no”), slightly behind GroveLink's strong showing of support.

“We think these results are really positive,” said Lydia Corran, outreach director for Ride Connection, which operates the service. "That means to us that they’re happy with the service, that they think it’s useful even if they’re not using it, which is kind of unheard of.”

The 2014 citizen survey, conducted by the city of Forest Grove, covered a variety of city services and was distributed to Forest Grove residents in their June utility bills. Results were tabulated and presented at Monday’s city council meeting and are available on the city's website at forestgrove-or.gov/city-hall/departments.html.