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County examines CC Rider for solvency

Host of service changes presented Feb. 13 for consideration


A state requirement for counties to hold enough money in reserve to cover 2.5 months of operation for each of their departments is driving revisions to the cash-strapped and heavily subsidized CC Rider bus transit system, not the least of which are likely cuts and reductions in service.

Some possibilities expected in a staff report to be presented to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 13 include prioritizing demand-response trips for medical reasons or for necessities. Trips other than to the doctor, grocery store or bank, for example, could be excluded.

Some lesser-used fixed and flex routes, as assessed through an earlier analysis that examined the number of riders for each serviced route, related cost and hours of service, face the prospect of being trimmed.

Janet Wright, the county’s transit director, said she does not anticipate more heavily used routes, such as fixed rides into Portland and to Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus, to be affected.

PCC pays the county a fee to help offset CC Rider expenses to service the campus. Wright said her department is negotiating an increase in that fee, which is $56,000 for the current budget cycle.

“We’re looking at that because we have to, and they understand that,” Wright said.

The cuts and service changes are part of a plan to build roughly $300,000 in cash reserves for the transit department, she said.

“We’ll be able to establish a reserve and have solvent operations. We will be able to pay our bills,” Wright said.

Joe Burks, chairman for the Columbia County Citizens Transit Advisory Committee, a volunteer group that makes recommendations to the commissioners, in a prepared statement released Monday said it is the intent for the proposed changes to affect as few people as possible.

“In the last year, CC Rider provided approximately 105,000 rides to county residents, and we are very much aware that there are people behind the numbers that rely on public transportation,” he said in the press release.

Funding for the CC Rider transit service originates from several sources, including federal and state grant programs, as well as a community partner arrangement in which local cities the bus system services chip in a voluntary amount of funds.

Fares also contribute to the CC Rider business model, with the last rate increase occurring little more than a year ago.

Economic forces, including a decline in federal and state dollars for transit and increased competition for the fewer dollars that remain, have contributed to the funding problems, Wright said. There had also been a drop in how much cities have been willing to contribute.

The sustained high cost for diesel fuel is also weighing against the service, Wright said.

Even with the funding challenges, Wright said any fare increase would likely hurt, not help, the bus service as riders would be priced out of using it.

“I actually think that would have a negative effect, I really do,” she said. “I don’t see that as an option for us.”

She said the concept of a transit tax district as had been discussed in the past is still a possibility, though there is currently no proposal on the table for consideration.

“What kind of a future does the county and the people see for transit?” she said. “I know there’s a heck of a lot of people who use it.”