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SAM supports local economy in big way

SAM buses take cars off the road, save fuel, offer free rides, boost local businesses


by: POST FILE PHOTO: JIM HART - SAM buses leave Sandy every half hour weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., with fewer runs Saturdays.Even though Sandy Area Metro (SAM) is operated as a business, it is one of the biggest supporters of the region’s private businesses.

This was part of the message delivered last week at the monthly luncheon of the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce as Transit Manager Julie Stephens spoke to the group.

Julie Stephens, Sandy transit managerNot only is each bus a rolling advertisement for the city, they also pick up and deliver customers to local businesses — some coming from Estacada, Gresham, and the mountain villages as well as around Sandy.

Asked where riders were going, (in a survey) the majority of riders said they were headed to work or to shop — especially those who ride the Sandy Transit Area Rides (STAR), which will travel a three-mile radius outside of Sandy.

“We bring a lot of people into Sandy to shop,” Stephens said. “Not everybody has a car and is able to drive, so we provide transportation, subject to availability.”

The survey also proved that about one-third of SAM riders come to Sandy from Gresham, while another 10 percent use MAX from Portland and finish their trip with SAM from Gresham.

SAM not only reduces the cost of transportation for local residents, it also reduces Sandy’s carbon footprint. Stephens told the group of business owners and city leaders at the chamber meeting that since the service began in 2000, vehicles have stayed at home 2.5 million times.

That’s a lot of gas saved.

Still unique among all of the transit systems in the greater metro area, SAM continues to be fareless.

More than two-thirds of the funding to cover the costs of operation comes from grants, Stephens said, and 29 percent comes from the taxes paid by businesses that operate in Sandy — even if the business is located elsewhere.

Stephens admitted, however, that SAM likely would begin charging fares in the near future because some of the sources of grant funding are being eliminated.

There is no plan to increase business taxes, she said. In fact, Sandy’s tax is nearly 20 percent less than TriMet’s tax.

Stephens was complimentary of the people who operate the buses and of the large number of people who ride SAM. They, she said, are the people who help keep the cost low.

Comparing the total cost of each ride with the transit systems in Molalla and Wilsonville, Stephens said SAM operates at a cost of about $4 per ride, while both Wilsonville and Molalla have costs of about $10 per ride.

Stephens showed the business people a line graph of the growth of SAM over the past 13 years.

“As business owners and officers (of businesses), I thought you might like to see what our growth looks like,” she said. “I think anyone in a business would like to see this growth trail (rising constantly upward, except for 2009).”

In the first year, SAM gave 77,000 trips to local riders, while in the past year the total had risen to more than 250,000 rides.

The 20 percent dip in 2009 happened because the transit master plan had SAM eliminating the local service in Gresham. That made the system good for commuters, but also reduced the number of riders. Since then, Stephens said, ridership has steadily increased.

The question of who depends on public transit was well answered by Stephens as she listed some of the different types of riders: youths, seniors, disabled persons, low-income families and people who can’t or won’t drive.

Plus, other motorists benefit, she said, explaining that SAM removes 800 cars a day from local roads.

And the final statistic that turned a lot of heads in the meeting room was about the economy — a topic on the minds of every business owner in town.

Surveys have proven that every dollar invested in transit yields $6 in various types of economic returns, Stephens said.

Sandy’s transit system operates on a budget of $1.1 million, which means — according to another proven statistic — that Sandy businesses share an increase in sales of about $3 million, thanks to SAM and STAR.

“I would say,” Stephens said, “that we have supported the economy of Sandy.”

For more information, call Stephens at 503-489-0925.