Car-free travel throughout the Columbia River Gorge just became a lot easier.
Starting June 11, Columbia Area Transit officially began Monday-Friday service on four fixed routes: One that makes the trip between Hood River and The Dalles about eight times a day, another that goes from Hood River to Cascade Locks about seven times a day, one between Hood River and the upper valley that makes about nine round trips a day, and one in downtown Hood River that offers about 12 round trips a day.
On the fixed routes, one-way fare in Hood River and Wasco counties is $1 and kids under the age of 7 can ride free with an adult.
The only deviation from regular fare is on the Hood River to Cascade Locks route, where one-way fare for non-residents is $2.50. Hood River County residents will be charged the standard $1 fare.
One-way fare for an ADA, paratransit or Dial-a-Ride service for those unable to use the fixed routes is $2. Custom pickup at the Mosier Senior Center is also $2 each way.
A celebration — including free coffee, donuts and live entertainment — of these and other transit services throughout the Gorge will be held June 16 from 9-10:30 a.m. at a new bus stop at the Port of Hood River between the Event Site and the Hood River Valero Gas Station.
This site serves as a temporary transit hub for all of TransLink’s services passing through Hood River, as well as a Greyhound bus stop. The Port of Hood River will eventually develop a permanent transit hub on Lot One just north of the current hub, Mobility Manager Kathy Fitzpatrick said.
Saturday’s event is both a celebration of The Gorge TransLink Alliance’s recent and upcoming developments and an opportunity to provide information and answer questions on the plethora of available and upcoming services.
Among the services in development is a deviated fixed route in The Dalles operated by Wasco County’s transit service, The LINK, expected to start April 2019. As a deviated line, it will allow riders passengers unable to safely make it to a stop along the fixed route to ask the LINK to come pick them up.
The transit service currently offers Dial-A-Ride year-round and a bus to The Dalles Farmers Market throughout the summer. “We saw this opportunity to get more people riding the bus and help everybody access the healthy local fruits and vegetables at the market,” said Amanda Hoey, executive director of the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District (MCEDD).
The LINK used to be managed by the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments (MCCOG) but was taken over by MCEDD when the former organization dissolved.
MCEDD recently received two ODOT grants totaling approximately $300,000 to establish the LINK route.
“We’re excited for this grant that will allow the LINK to provide more transportation options in The Dalles with the deviated fixed-route system and we’re looking forward to developing the details for the route and schedule over the next several months,” Hoey said.
The grant money also funds the creation of bus shelter facilities and increased signage along all CAT and MATS (Mount Adams Transportation Service) routes, as well as the Columbia Gorge Express and the Mt. Hood Meadows Shuttle routes. Columbia Gorge Community College, the Port of Hood River, CAT, Mt. Hood Meadows, North Wasco County PUD and ODOT have also contributed significant resources to this regional project.
MCEDD oversees the entirety of the TransLink Alliance via a mobility management team headed by Fitzpatrick.
Her primary job is to coordinate with the different transit services in the area, and her team’s website, Columbia Gorge Car-Free, is the manifestation of that, she said. The site offers information on all the transit services in the area, a trip planner and suggested itineraries. The mobility team is currently working on mobile ticketing and bundle passes, she said.
The Gorge isn’t a “perfect transit area” like major cities are, she said, “but what we do have is a lot of visitors that more and more don’t want to drive their own vehicles … the last thing I want to do when I go on vacation is to drive a car.” The expansion of transit is a way to leverage that high volume of visitors coming to the Gorge year after year to provide a valuable service for locals, she said.
It is rare for rural areas to commit to this type of collaborative transit system, Fitzpatrick said, as most simply offer Dial-A Ride, a door-to-door transportation service.
“A fixed-route system will be more efficient and cost-effective for the general public, providing more consistency for residents, commuters and students while allowing for spontaneous travel and the ability to meet immediate travel needs,” she said.
Along with the safety issues, congestion and parking needs that come from private vehicles, Fitzpatrick cited the growing need for affordable housing in the Gorge as a reason for expanded public transportation.
“Portland is kind of the shining example of how important it is to combine public transit with affordable housing because that’s how you make housing affordable,” she said.
“(Public transit) builds a healthier population” she said, “it kind of comes down to the happiness factor, it makes people happier.”