CC Rider hopes ridership picks up when pandemic subsides
With the coronavirus pandemic, the area's transit service, Columbia County Rider, has had to make adjustments and is hoping business picks up as COVID-19 restrictions, one hopes, will ease up in the new year.
CC Rider, as it's commonly called, is "plugging along," according to its interim director, John Dreeszen.
CC Rider is a department of Columbia County with the mission of figuring out the transportation needs of Columbia County citizens and trying to meet those needs.
But with the coronavirus pandemic raging on, CC Rider has had to adapt.
"We continue to have a regular cycle of washing the exterior of buses," Dreeszen said. "The focus has really shifted to the inside of the bus."
Buses are cleaned and sanitized twice per day.
"The driver picks up a little cleaning kit that they take with them that has sanitary wipes, gloves, masks, sanitary spray. They actually do spot cleaning throughout the day," Dreeszen said.
But with fewer people commuting to the office or classes in Portland or Washington County, and many people following public health guidance to avoid close contact with others and stay home when possible, CC Rider is also facing lower ridership during these times.
"Ridership has really plummeted," Dreeszen said. "It has been a little while since I did the math, and things have very gradually improved during the past month or two, but at one point, in October or so, I ran some numbers and our ridership was down about 75 percent of what we had been doing before."
Dreeszen continued, "Even though fares are not a major part of our revenue, when those get cut by 75 percent, we feel it. Unlike many transit districts in the area, we haven't reduced service during the pandemic, whereas many districts have. It has definitely been financially challenging for us."
CC Rider did receive an additional one-time grant from the original CARES Act, which Congress passed last March.
"Without that, we wouldn't have been able to keep service at the level that we've kept it at," Dreeszen said. "It was more important for us to remain steady, predictable and consistent."
Looking ahead, Dreeszen said, "It will be interesting as we move into the next upcoming fiscal year whether or not we will be able to continue to do that or not."
Dreeszen said about 80% of CC Rider is funded with grants that come through the Oregon Department of Transportation. Much of it is federal funding.
"We don't have a local tax base that's dedicated to transportation," he said. "We're very reliant on those grants. Secondly, fares from the general ridership, but also fares that we raise from various community organizations. Lumping all of that together, that's probably about 15 percent of our revenue."
About $100,000 comes from the county budget.
"It comes from economic development money that the county receives," Dreeszen said.
He noted, "The transit system here has definitely, sort of, walked on the edge financially for quite some time. If you don't have a regular or guaranteed source of local funding, coming up with match dollars for the grants is challenging."
About 21 vehicles, owned by the county, are currently in the CC Rider fleet.
CC Rider offers several lines of service in Columbia County. The biggest line, with the most ridership, goes in and out of Portland 10 times per day. This service, according to Dreeszen, makes up about 70% of ridership.
"Next in line, in terms of ridership, would be our South County flex service," he said, noting this line essentially does a loop between Scappoose, St. Helens and Columbia City. The goal is to serve residential areas and destinations, including business and medical facilities.
Among other services is Dial-a-Ride, which provides pre-arranged rides for citizens, particularly seniors and those with disabilities.
More information about CC Rider can be found at nworegontransit.org. Dispatchers are available at 503-366-0159 from 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.
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