Bus service in Bend is fine as far as it goes. But it isn’t yet where many who support transit want it to be.

Oregon State University-Cascades — along with some other partners — is trying to do something to improve it, and the Bend City Council should back it.

Councilors are scheduled to vote Wednesday on giving OSU-Cascades up to $90,000 to support having an app-based, on-demand shuttle service to help serve OSU-Cascades.

No bus route in Bend runs directly between OSU-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College. Cascades East Transit, which runs the bus system, canceled it in 2018 because of lack of ridership. It was averaging 21 riders a day.

If there aren’t enough riders to support a regular route, it made sense to cancel it. But there are still students and others who need rides. Transit is a way to provide them, put less traffic on the roads and create less of a parking issue around campus — than if the transit riders all drove their own cars.

The service called Ride Bend is already running, offering free shuttle rides to any member of the public seven days a week through Sept. 22. It will switch to weekdays after that date through the middle of December. Riders can summon a ride through the Ride Bend app or call 1-866-921-8924. This summer it served people bounded by Portland Avenue to the north, the Bend Parkway to the east, 14th Street to the west and Reed Market Road to the south. It would also pick people up at the Hawthorne bus transfer station. The fall service area basically serves the more immediate area between OSU-Cascades and COCC.

The agreement between the city and OSU-Cascades requires OSU to collect data on how well the system works and report that information back.

“Current cost per vehicle hour is $49, including vehicles, technology, and labor,” according to a Cascades East Transit report. Numbers for a July 1–Sept. 4 pilot were 4,249 total rides, or about 65 rides per day.

Is this the future of transit for Bend or a bridge to the future? Maybe. Maybe not. The problem — as always — is paying for it.

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