Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

It took more than two weeks after record-breaking snowstorms receded for Bend’s bus provider to clear piles of ice, snow and slush from bus stops.

Cascades East Transit, which receives about $1.3 million per year from the city of Bend to operate bus service within city limits, is responsible for maintaining bus stops. By Friday afternoon, the provider had cleared snow and ice from all 234 bus stops, said Michelle Rhoads, the agency’s transportation manager.

“We’ve been clearing them out as quickly as we could,” Rhoads said.

Cascades East Transit taking weeks to clear bus stops meant some people who rely on the buses were unable to make it to work, school or other commitments.

One of those people is Jordan Ohlde, a Bend resident born with cerebral palsy who uses a motorized wheelchair.

Ohlde was not available for an interview by press time, but Carol Fulkerson, a disability advocate with the Central Oregon Coalition for Access and a friend of Ohlde’s, said he was unable to go to work for two weeks. Even if sidewalks were passable, the bus stops were not, Fulkerson said.

“People like Jordan who lost two weeks of work because the sidewalks were impassable, that’s just not acceptable,” she said. “It affects every one of us when Jordan can’t get to work or a student can’t get to school.”

This winter highlighted the need to better prepare for snow, Fulkerson said. A goal of having all bus stops cleared within 24 to 36 hours — which is on par with the city’s requirement that residential sidewalks be clear within 24 hours after snow stops falling — makes sense, she said.

“They need to have a solid plan to get those stops cleared,” Fulkerson said. “There’s got to be some solid action by the city of Bend.”

Karin Morris, the city’s accessibility manager, said she didn’t receive any requests to remove snow from unreachable bus stops, but she knew they existed because she’s seen examples in her own neighborhood.

The responsibility for keeping bus stops clear is spread among three entities: the city, Cascades East Transit and private property owners, she said. The city of Bend plows roads; property owners are required to clear sidewalks adjacent to their properties,and Cascades East Transit is responsible for maintaining bus stops under the 2018 intergovernmental agreement it has to provide bus service within city limits.

“There’s always been discussions about coordinating a better response, but then the snow melts,” Morris said.

The Bend City Council will discuss snow and ice removal during its Wednesday night work session, and Councilor Chris Piper said he wants to talk about transit. That’s in part because of an experience he had March 11.

“I was going down Brookswood and there was an older lady standing on the street, not in the bike lane but in the actual travel lane in front of a bus stop,” he said.

Piper turned around in the roundabout at the intersection of Brookswood Boulevard and Powers Road and drove back to the woman to offer her a ride. She was headed downtown for work, Piper said, and was standing in the road waiting for a bus.

She told him she didn’t feel safe waiting in the road, but she also couldn’t keep asking her friends for rides to work. When Piper drove back by the bus stop later, he saw that it still wasn’t accessible for people with disabilities.

“It’s preventing a lot of people that need transit to get to work from getting to work,” he said. “I want to make bus stops as equal a priority as roads.”

Rhoads, the Cascades East Transit manager, said the bus provider has an inclement weather plan in place. The agency is reviewing the plan and what went well, she said.

Bend has a Dial-A-Ride program for people with disabilities, Rhoads said. It’s only for people who can’t use the fixed-route buses because of a disability.

Four Cascades East Transit employees maintain facilities. With the snow, additional youth crews from the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council assisted in clearing ice with ice picks from bus stops, Rhoads said.

She said Bend residents need to clear sidewalks as well.

“Our role is to clear the bus stops,” she said. “However, people need to get to the bus stops.”

—  Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com