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Todd Wood, new transit director, comes with background in TriMet management

Todd Wood didn't have time to ease into his morning at work. He never has since he was hired to take the helm at CC Rider.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Todd Wood, the new transit director at CC Rider, has years of transit operations and management experience.

Instead, he has the jobs of three people to do.

Right as he took over, two key administrative staff members left.

"Right now I'm doing a little bit of everything," Wood says. "I typically come in and sit down, look through all the emails, then I usually end up counting the fares from the day before. Then, once I've got that, I've gotta come back and work on some planning."

There's also a county commissioner meeting to prepare for, grant applications to complete, contract renewal talks with Portland Community College and, on top of that, he and his limited staff need to secure routes to the Columbia County Fairgrounds before the fair's opening day.

Wood takes it in stride.

When he accepted the transit director position, he knew the challenges he'd face coming to a rural bus agency funded primarily by grants.

Wood was hired in May to replace CC Rider's former transit director, who left abruptly in February.

He comes from a long history at TriMet where he worked as both a bus driver and a rail operator before being promoted to management positions at the Portland metro transit agency.

"I spent about six years as an operator, both bus and train," Wood notes of his time at TriMet. "The rest of it was management."

Despite working his way up through the state's largest transit entity, Wood, 44, says the move to Columbia County is a welcome transition.

"It's an advancement opportunity for me," Wood says. "I step up to a little higher level, it adds some skills to my repertoire, and I saw a need in the county I thought I could fill."

Wood still commutes from Damascus each workday where he lives with his wife and four kids, for now.

In a few days, he and his family have plans to look at houses in Columbia County.

Navigating a bumpy road

Managing CC Rider will be no easy feat.

The agency consistently battles with funding and negative public perception.

Voters twice rejected a measure that would have increased the county's natural resources depletion fee to generate extra revenue for roads infrastructure and CC Rider. They also voted against making the agency an independent transit district funded by tax revenue. Opponents cited everything from potential job losses associated with higher fees on mining companies to low ridership and "empty buses."

CC Rider will also need to pay back a $400,000 loan it received from the county this year to avoid a budget deficit.

"Funding will be the biggest challenge for the foreseeable future," Wood says. "It's mostly grant and fare funded. You can run that way for a while ... but at some point we're going to need to shift the funding to something a little more sustainable."

Aside from figuring out how to keep CC Rider financially sustainable, Wood also aims to make it more accessible and rider-friendly. The new transit director says he'd like to see more stops along Highway 30 where possible, and re-examine current routes and fares.

"One of the things I've started to look at and will continue to look at is the efficiency of the system," he notes. "Yes, you see empty buses, but they won't be empty on both trips."

Ticket prices are also on the table, as Wood notes some are "on the high side."

"It costs $12 to go into Portland," he notes, "but you have to remember it's a 60-mile roundtrip."

The hardest road ahead will likely be the path to public persuasion.

"We in Oregon are notorious for not liking to pay taxes at all," Wood says. "When you have a growing community, some people don't have the luxury of owning an automobile. At some point, we ... have to recognize that being part of a community is providing for all of our members."

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