City Council, SMART transit director talk possible partnership to bring more bus service into West Linn

In the middle of a presentation to the West Linn City Council Monday, Sept. 17, Wilsonville Transit Director Dwight Brashear stopped on what he said was his favorite photo in the slideshow.

"I know you're having challenges with your high school," said Brashear, who is in charge of Wilsonville's own transit district — South Metro Area Regional Transit (SMART). "This picture is a bus stop directly in front of Wilsonville High — it shows that when you provide good service, these kids line up."

The council invited Brashear to the work session in the hopes of learning more about Wilsonville's unique public transit system and how it might connect with future services in West Linn. SMART accommodates an estimated 280,000 riders annually, with six in-town routes (which are free) as well as connections to Canby, Salem and Tualatin. The service is funded primarily through an employer payroll tax.

Councilors view the public transit in West Linn — which is provided by Tri-Met — to be inadequate, and, as Brashear noted, they are also looking for creative solutions to the ongoing parking problem at West Linn High School.

One of those solutions could be a public shuttle service similar to the GroveLink system in Forest Grove.

"We share a school district (with Wilsonville), so what are the possibilities? If we set up our own local shuttle system, how would that work to connect (SMART) with us?" City Council President Brenda Perry said. "Our people go out (of town) to work."

Brashear was receptive to the idea.

"I think your proximity to Wilsonville is certainly a bonus," he said. "It doesn't appear that it would take a whole lot (to make it work). Primarily what you're looking for is neighborhood circulators to take people to the main line. Smaller buses bringing people to larger routes would be my recommendation."

"Expanding SMART to West Linn is the way I'd want to do it," City Councilor Bob Martin said. "If we can share a school district, we can share transit."

Mayor Russ Axelrod noted that the GroveLink was supported largely through federal funds — a model he didn't see as a fit for West Linn. SMART's payroll tax funding would also be a tough match in a city that's low on employers.

"We don't have the commercial/industrial base to have a payroll tax," Axelrod said. "But we all pay a Tri-Met tax."

He wondered if there was a way to work with Tri-Met to divert some of that tax money to support an intra-city ride service that could connect with larger Tri-Met lines.

"It brings more (ridership) to them," Axelrod said.

Brashear didn't dismiss the idea, but said he didn't know of any cities that had taken that approach.

In the end, the council agreed to schedule a ride-along with SMART and work with the agency on a feasibility analysis for future service routes. Representatives from West Linn and Wilsonville will also discuss synergizing their transit systems.

"It's a really, really good match," Axelrod said. "I'm going to be bringing it back up with (Wilsonville) Mayor (Tim) Knapp to see what we can do to take it to the next level."

"I think there needs to be a dialogue, probably at a level higher than mine," Brashear said. "You have a problem in search of a solution. Being transit people, we'd like to help you figure it out."

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