by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Route 2X service to Portlands Barbur Boulevard Transit Center is the most expensive route for SMART to operate. A new study is looking for ways to streamline that service, among others. Connecting Wilsonville with the greater Portland metro area is likely the most crucial mission assigned to the South Metro Area Regional Transit agency.

Even more than ferrying passengers around the city on local routes, SMART provides one of the key links between Wilsonville and its business community and the thousands of employees who work here each day.

Accordingly, improving the efficiency of routes along the Interstate 5 corridor between Wilsonville and downtown Portland is the goal of SMART’s Transit Integration Project, a grant-funded effort that agency officials hope will result in revamped routes and services that offer more passengers more options using existing resources.

“The main reason we embarked on this project was to try and find efficiencies in our system,” SMART Transportation Program Manager Jen Massa Smith told the Wilsonville City Council on Jan. 6.

So far, consultants from Portland firms Nelson-Nygaard and Cogan-Owens-Cogan have worked with SMART staff to produce a needs assessment for the agency as well as conduct public outreach that gathered data on specific SMART customer needs and wants. That outreach also provided the agency with up-to-date information on routes serving the I-5 corridor, including SMART’s important 2X route between SMART Central to TriMet’s Barbur Boulevard Transit Center in Southwest Portland.

Councilors were presented with a preliminary report outlining proposed solutions to the efficiency question. They include a greater integration of SMART’s existing dial-a-ride service with fixed-route trips and adding a fixed-route element to the agency’s current policy of offering on-demand rides for medical service destinations such as Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin. Finally, the report calls for improved efficiency on routes such as the 2X that travel outside Wilsonville.

Those were arrived at, said Nelson-Nygaard consultant Scott Chapman, using four evaluation criteria: passenger convenience; cost to SMART; the potential to attract new customers; and avoiding the duplication of existing services by TriMet and other agencies.

Out-of-town routes are key to the project, Chapman said, noting that Route 2X uses about 29 percent of SMART’s resources and out-of-town medical services about 9 percent.

“When you look at door-to-door services, these are inherently more costly because you’re serving fewer shared rides,” he said. “The medical trips, that’s an area where we’re seeing increasing demand. If you look at the service it’s maxed out at the number of trips provided per year. So our key challenge here is how to best improve these services, the efficiency of them, while keeping an eye on the finances and trying to be revenue neutral.”

Establishing fixed-route shuttle service to medical service clusters such as Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin, by far SMART’s most-requested destination by on-demand passengers, could be one solution. Similar service to Oregon Health & Science University and the Portland VA Medical Center could be another.

“We’re looking for common trips that could be tied into a fixed route,” Chapman said. “OHSU is a good example because that’s a popular destination.”

Limits include mounting administration costs with expanded services, as well as possible route overlap with TriMet.

The other strategy, Chapman said, is to plug into a regional network as efficiently as possible in other suburban cities like Tualatin, Tigard or Beaverton. Based on existing use, there is large Westside market potential, he added, and a savings potential if coordinated with TriMet or other agencies.

On the west side, this would make greater sense when considering project data analysis that shows a large proportion of SMART passengers travel to and from Wilsonville to destinations along the Highway 217 corridor between Tigard and Beaverton.

For now, consultants will work with SMART staff on a final report to be presented to councilors later this spring. Further public outreach will take place during the summer, after which new or revised routes and other changes would be implemented early in 2015.

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