Editorial: Bus use climbs but permanent financing lacking

Published Sep 12, 2013 at 05:00AM

The Bend Area Transit system, now operated as part of Cascades East Transit, turns 7 later this month, and permanent financing is still elusive. Yet a look at the numbers, both within the city and across the full tri-county system, should persuade Central Oregonians it is a system worth preserving.

Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council took over BAT about three years ago and merged it with COIC’s intercity system that serves La Pine, Sisters, Redmond, Prineville, Madras, Metolius and Culver. Both the Bend and intercity systems have shown steady ridership increases since.

Ridership is measured by the number of persons boarding each individual bus, even if one person must take more than one bus to complete a single one-way trip. That’s the standard measurement used by the transit industry, and it makes sense if you think about it: Those measuring rides have no way of knowing how many buses an individual will use in one trip.

The method has at least one drawback. It is difficult to read a number and know how many people actually used a system at any particular time. By the same token, however, the method allows comparisons from year to year and from one system to the next.

Either way, both of Cascades East’s systems have seen substantial growth in recent years. Within the city of Bend, BAT ridership has grown to 486,525 in 2012-13 from 354,021 in 2008-09. Intercity travel stood at 236,637 in 2012-13, up from 96,375 in 2008-09. Intercity travel actually has dropped by about 28,000 riders in the last year, officials say, because hours were reduced.

COIC is again discussing the problem it has faced ever since it got into the transit business. Bend, meanwhile, would love to quit taking money from its general fund to pay its share of BAT costs. That’s about $1 million a year. Options may be limited, however, and increased taxes of one sort or another may well be involved. Few of us, it’s safe to say, really relish the thought of paying more for anything, including bus service.

Yet COIC provides a public service for which there is a clear and growing demand. Those who took nearly 750,000 Cascades East trips last year must not be ignored.

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