Public transit routes expand to seven days a week from Tillamook to Timberline Lodge

by: POST PHOTO: JIM HART - At the Sandy Transit Operations Center, Janice Johnson of Sandy, right, purchases a transit ticket from Transit Assistant Andi Howell. Tickets also are available at Sandy City Hall and the Sandy Community Center. Fares for all buses went into effect Tuesday, Oct. 1.There’s a lot of transit news today: For the first time in nearly 14 years, all Sandy transit services will have fares; Clackamas County is offering several buses daily from Sandy to Timberline; and Sandy Area Metro (SAM) is expanding its Sandy-to-Gresham service with buses on weekends.

Not only does the new county bus line make ski and snowshoe recreation less expensive and more available, but also the double expansion (SAM and county buses) means essentially that a person living in Tillamook can find round-trip public transportation to and from Timberline for no more than $31 — less with discounts.

Sandy fares

All of the Sandy transit routes will cost $1 each way for each rider, said Transportation Manager Julie Stephens.

The exceptions are STAR (the city’s in-town, dial-a-ride service), which offers half-price fares to people age 60 and older or disabled, and the special service that takes frail and elderly people on distant trips to medical appointments anywhere in the metro area, which will be $2 each way.

Looking at the big picture, Stephens says it is difficult to estimate with any degree of accuracy the impact the fares will have on the transportation system.

Not only is she expecting a 20-30 percent reduction in ridership, but a decline in revenue is expected when some riders choose reduced-fare options of a monthly SAM pass, multiple-trip pass or 50 percent off STAR. Stephens said the estimate of revenue from fares is between $100,000 and $130,000 a year.

There are no reduced fares on the regular SAM routes for students, seniors or disabled, Stephens said, because SAM is not required to offer those and because Stephens and city officials want to keep the fare schedule simple so it does not require hiring more staff.

“We are asking the same fare from everyone, but some can get the reductions,” she said.

“One of the reasons for reduced fares on STAR is because businesses in town support the transit system by paying a tax, so this (reduced-fare) service helps our local elderly or disabled patronize those businesses.”

The fares became required, after 14 years of free rides, because grant revenues for transportation were reduced.

Sandy’s transportation system operates on an annual budget of about $1.15 million, but that doesn’t consider capital expenses such as new buses. Local revenue from business taxes has been about $400,000-$450,000 a year.

Since the availability of grant money is changing (reducing at least 10 percent each year), Stephens said the city is “being a little pre-emptive” charging fares now.

Buses to Timberline

Stephens, reporting on other transportation events, said the “really big news” is that Clackamas County placed some old, refurbished buses into service on Oct. 1 between Sandy and Timberline Lodge.

Those buses represent an expansion of the Mountain Express service that has been transporting people between Rhododendron and Sandy for a number of years.

The new express buses will take passengers to Skibowl and Timberline Lodge five times a day, seven days a week. By December, there will be seven round trips daily to the lodge. The only exceptions are Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day.

The new county-operated bus service to the lodge is funded with a grant of federal lands access money, which was secured through efforts of the U.S. Forest Service office in Sandy, the county and the city of Sandy. The ski resorts provided some private money to match the grants. These grants are designed to improve transportation to federal recreational areas.

As a result of the county’s buses and additional SAM bus routes on weekends, people all over northwestern Oregon have access to a year-round recreational playground.

“(SAM) is adding weekend runs to Gresham to fill in,” Stephens said, “so there will be seven-day-a-week service between the Portland metro area, the airport and Timberline Lodge.

“Somebody can get on the bus in Tillamook and ride to Timberline Lodge by transit seven days a week. A daily bus goes from Tillamook to Portland; then MAX goes to Gresham; then SAM takes riders to Sandy; and then the county bus goes to the lodge.”

People from out of state or another country also can access Mount Hood from Portland International Airport by using the MAX Red Line to Gateway and then the Blue Line to Gresham.

More buses for SAM

The SAM routes to Gresham, which connect Sandy residents with metro public transportation, also increased this week.

Five times a day — on Saturday and Sunday — SAM will travel between Gresham and Sandy. That should make a continuous route from the mountain to points west.

“We’re adding those weekend runs to fill that transit gap that would have happened if we didn’t operate during the weekends,” Stephens said.

Funding for the weekend buses between Gresham and Sandy also is part of the grant funds that puts county buses on the road from Sandy to the lodge.

For more information on the new fares in Sandy or the changes in buses traveling to the ski resorts, visit the website or call Stephens at 503-489-0925.