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New year unlikely to bring stability to transit provider, future services uncertain

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Members of the Columbia County Rider advisory committee review proposed service changes in April 2019.Significant service cuts are approaching for Columbia County Rider.

In November, the public transit provider lost a ballot measure that would have created a permanent property tax to fund the system. Since then, CC Rider staff have examined current services to find where service cuts can save the most money for the least impact to riders.

CC Rider has struggled for years to find stable funding, with voters rejecting tax increases multiple times. Currently, operations rely primarily on grant funding, as well as rider fares and money from the county general fund, which CC Rider has aimed to pay back.

Opponents of the recent ballot measure pointed to low ridership numbers, often seen as buses traveling through the county with few or no passengers.

Transit Director Todd Wood joined CC Rider in May 2018 after more than a decade at TriMet in the Portland metro area. Since joining CC Rider, Wood has made significant changes to services after close analysis of rider data.

CC Rider drivers are not county employees, but are employed by MTR Western, which operates the buses for CC Rider. In late 2018, MTR canceled its contract with CC Rider shortly after drivers unionized. When CC Rider solicited bids from contractors for continued service, MTR was the only respondent. The county approved a new contract with MTR earlier this year at an increased rate of $58 per service hour.

Just months later, MTR notified CC Rider that they needed another raise, this time more than $5 per hour. Wood and Columbia County commissioners expressed frustration with MTR's inconsistent narrative.

Prior to the election, the county told MTR that they would approve a raise if the ballot measure passed.

"Since MTR did not respond to the commission I cannot at this point be sure that the deal would still be on the table regardless the outcome," Wood said in November.

Under the current contract, MTR is required to give months notice to terminate services. As of Jan. 1, Wood said MTR had not given notice.

In December, CC Rider proposed significant cuts to line 2 to Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus; Dial-a-Ride paratransit service; line 3 through St. Helens and Scappoose; and line 1 to Sauvie Island and Portland.

Cuts to line 2 and line 1 have been postponed until at least March after talks with TriMet and PCC. Both offered some funding for CC Rider.

At the county commission's first meeting in January, CC Rider staff will recommend cuts, but the ultimate decision is made by commission vote.

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