July 14, 2015 / Comments (0)

Planners consider improvements and funding sources for the Mt. Hood Express bus service

The vast majority of the 4 million visits to Mount Hood each year are people driving their personal vehicles, generating congestion, parking problems, pollution and unsafe driving conditions in bad weather.

In an effort to convince more people to ride up to the mountain by public transit, Clackamas County has expanded its Mt. Hood Express bus service and invested in two new $140,000 buses serving Sandy, Welches, Skibowl, Government Camp and Timberline Lodge.

The Mt. Hood Express transported 29,896 passengers in Year One, from Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014, a 50 percent increase from the year prior. Ridership has grown an additional 38 percent so far in Year Two, in spite of a poor snow winter. Two new buses are on order and due to come on line by 2016, and the federal grant that made the service possible has been extended through 2017.

The grant money is key because public transit systems in resort areas never collect money in fares to pay for the system. Generally fares provide only cover about 15 percent of revenue.

Mount Hood Express one-way bus fares are $2, or you can purchase an all-day pass for $5 good for multiple rides on the Mt. Hood Express and Sandy city buses. To see a schedule and map, click here.

The expanded service is wrapping up its second year, and even after two consecutive subpar snow years, ridership has been strong. But there is definitely room for improvement. That’s why county planners are working with Colorado-based LSC Transportation Consultants, Inc. to gauge the system’s effectiveness and explore new options for improving — and paying for — the Mt. Hood Express. LSC has done transit planning in Aspen, Vail, Squaw Valley, Mammoth Lakes, Telluride, Park City, Jackson, Steamboat Springs, and Summit County, Colorado.

One compelling idea involves expanding the service to Mt. Hood Meadows and Hood River, which would require cooperation between Hood River and Clackamas Counties. Hood River is involved in the planning process, as is the Warm Springs tribe. But first planers and administrators want to hear from the community.

“The service has grown by leaps and bounds, and we’re at the point where we want to look at some long range planning,” says Jacques Livingston, an Administrative Analyst with Mt. Hood Express Transit Services. “Where do we want to grow this, and how might that look?”

The other big question: How to pay for the system going forward? One option is to set up a local taxing authority, but it remains to be seen anything involving taxation goes over in unincorporated Govy.

A.T. Stoddard, a principal with LSC, says planning the transit service is usually fairly straightforward; the challenge is coming up with the public, private and nonprofit money to pay for it.

For now, an online survey is soliciting suggestions from the community, and three public meetings have been scheduled:

July 18th at 7 pm
Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum
88900 Government Camp Loop
Government Camp, OR 97028

July 20th at 7 pm
Mt. Hood Lions Club
24730 E. Woodsey Way
Welches, OR 97067

July 22nd at 7 pm
Mt Hood National Forest Headquarters
16400 Champion Way
Sandy, OR 97055

The purpose of the meetings is to hear feedback and ideas from the community about how to improve public transit on the mountain. If you have ideas but can’t make it to any of these meetings, you can link to the online survey here and contribute your suggestions.

Once the comments are all in and the data is analyzed, Stoddard and his team will create a report and present their findings and recommendations to the community on Saturday, Sept. 19 in Government Camp.

Here are the comments I made when I filled out the survey:

As a skier, snowboarder, biker and hiker, I support public transit to Mount Hood that is fast, efficient and affordable. I applaud the Mt. Hood Express and would LOVE to see faster express buses specifically for skiers and snowboarders, to take cars off the road when traffic is worst and most hazardous. Buses need to be fast and modern and good in snowy and icy conditions or else it is a waste of time and money, because people will just drive. Hooking up with an express bus from TriMet for the future would be awesome. A doable trip from Portland to the Mountain should be a serious goal. This has been done beautifully in Salt Lake City and could be done here as well, with cooperation between municipalities. Also, please consider partnering with Hood River County, because the majority of snow-season drivers are heading up from Portland to Mt. Hood Meadows. You could double ridership with a 15-mile extension into Hood River County to Meadows.

So what do you think?

What can the county do to make public transit a realistic option for skiers, snowboarders, bikers and hikers?

Last modified: July 14, 2015

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