Starting in February, Hermiston residents will have increased access to public transit. Hermiston Area Regional Transit, or HART, will increase its circulation from six routes a day to 10, beginning Feb. 4. The service will be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, increasing from its current hours of 9:12 a.m. to 4:48 p.m.

The routes will stay the same, with 21 stops on each route, and the service, operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s Kayak Public Transit system, will remain free to the public.

In 2017, the system’s first full year of operation, they gave 2,723 rides. In 2018, they gave 4,812 rides, according to Kayak Transit Coordinator Susan Johnson.

Hermiston Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan said the city initially introduced the program with the hope of supplementing the senior/disabled taxi program. When assessing the program, he said, 45 percent of the users needed the service between noon and 5 p.m., and two thirds of the riders were all going to the same three locations: the hospital, Lifeways, and Walmart.

Johnson said the increased hours will allow them to hire another driver, bringing them to one full-time and two part-time drivers. She said this spring they will also be getting a 22-passenger bus, which she said they hope will increase ridership.

While they haven’t collected any official data on HART riders, Morgan said anecdotally, the users are not necessarily seniors or disabled, but rather people who don’t have another public transit option.

Johnson said based on drivers’ observations, the most popular stops are Walmart, Good Shepherd Medical Center, and the Columbia Drive stop, where the Department of Human Services and Blue Mountain Community College are located.

She said ridership varies from day to day.

“On January 16, we had a total of 28 passengers,” she said. “The next day we had 14. That’s kind of the way it is.”

Morgan said he hopes people will use the two services in tandem — while a person who works nights may not be able to take the bus home, they can use the free service to at least get to work.

He said if riders can access Google Maps, it will tell them the most convenient bus stop for their location at any given time, including the updated hours.

The Tribes’ planning director J.D. Tovey said the decision to expand hours was based on some extra grant money they had. He said operating costs for HART come out to around $200,000.

He said he hopes the expanded hours will make it more accessible to people in the workforce.

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