Ridership on Hermiston’s new bus system did not grow as quickly as anticipated during its first year of service, but it still fulfilled its purpose of providing free transportation to residents.
“Overall I’m really happy with it,” said Susan Johnson, manager of Kayak Public Transit.
The HART began in January 2017 as a free public bus system run by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation under a contract with the city of Hermiston. Ridership numbers for its first year of operation show an average of 11.1 riders per day for the first nine months of 2017, which jumped to 11.8 riders per day after the city adjusted the route on Oct. 1 to make it more user-friendly. In all, it gave 2,723 rides in 2017.
The system’s best month was November, when 283 rides were given over 19 service days. Assistant city manager Mark Morgan had told the East Oregonian in March 2017 he expected ridership to grow to 600 people per month that year.
Morgan said Wednesday that routing was “a challenge” during the first nine months of the year but he expects to see the ridership curve hit its stride now that the faster route is in place.
“We hope more people will realize it is a good, usable system that they can utilize,” he said.
When the HART first began in January 2017, it made four loops per day through town, stopping about 30 times each loop. In October a new schedule was adopted that pruned the number of stops to 20 with six passes per day. Following feedback from riders who complained having to wait too long for the bus to pick them up, the route was also changed from a continuous loop in one direction to one that reversed direction after every stop at Hermiston Plaza. Johnson said before there was about an hour and fifteen minute wait between each time the bus stopped at a location. Now there are some waits that are as short as 20 minutes and others that stretch almost two hours, allowing people to plan short or long errands and appointments accordingly.
“We try and have a little bit of time in the schedule for everybody,” she said.
The city started an online advertising campaign in October, and has given printed advertising and bus schedules to the Umatilla County Housing Authority, which has agreed to disseminate the information to residents of their properties. The hospital’s Healthy Communities Coalition has also been helping spread the word. Johnson said bus dispatcher Katherine Palmer participated in the Third Annual Special Education Linkage Fair put on by Hermiston School District and will be attending similar events in the future to help explain the HART to potential users.
HART’s most popular stops have been at Hermiston Plaza, Walmart, and Southeast Columbia Drive located near the Stafford Hansell Government Center, Eastern Oregon Higher Education Center and Department of Human Services. Other frequently-used stops include the corner of Southwest Third Street and Orchard Avenue across from the post office, Southwest 10th Street and Orchard near Victory Square Park, and Fiesta Foods.
“It’s nice that we’re able to go to three grocery stores,” Johnson said.
Near the end of 2017 the city purchased some surplus Plexiglas bus shelters and this week installed one at the Third and Orchard stop, which is also where Kayak Public Transit’s Hermiston Hopper picks up riders to transport them to Stanfield and Pendleton. Morgan said other possible future locations for permanent shelters include Victory Square Park and Columbia Drive.
Johnson said the CTUIR has also applied for a grant to purchase a larger bus, in anticipation that ridership will grow in 2018.
Morgan said the city’s contract with the CTUIR is for $150,000 per year no matter the ridership, so ridership patterns for 2017 didn’t affect the city’s costs. One way the city might save money is if the free bus service results in fewer people using the city-subsidized taxi tickets for senior and disabled riders. Morgan said taxi tickets were down from 17,730 in 2016 to 17,502 in 2017 — a relatively small drop, but at a level he had expected because many bus riders wouldn’t have qualified for the taxi tickets. He said, however, that since the HART started he had stopped getting complaints from taxi ticket users who said no taxis were available when they called for one.
A schedule for the HART can be found online at ctuir.org/hermiston-hart and a dispatcher is available from 4 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 541-429-7519 to answer questions.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.