Public transit explored in rural Washington County

Washington County – Rides on public transportation to and from the city of Banks and the region are few and far between, but a bill passed during the 2017 Oregon legislative session may soon, at least to some degree, change that.

House Bill 2017 (HB 2017), which the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) appellated the “Keep Oregon Moving” bill, is a massive $5.3 billion transit tax package.

The funds the new law generates derive from a $16 increase in vehicle registration fees, a 4-cent-per-gallon gas tax, a .5 percent tax on new car sales, and a .001 percent (1/10 of a penny) transit tax on employers that will come out of employee paychecks beginning July 1.

It’s that 1/10th of one cent payroll tax that TriMet — the Portland-based organization that provides and manages bus, light rail and commuter rail in the metro area — says will generate, for the first time, money for public transportation in rural areas of Washington County outside of TriMet and South Metro Area Regional Transit (SMART) service boundaries.

Andrew Singelakis, director of land use and transportation for Washington County (LUT), said the amount of money generated from HB 2017 won’t be a lot for rural areas at $250,000, but it will allow for the creation of ride connections where service gaps and low-income households currently exist.

“The whole process is being handled by TriMet even though the area where Banks is located, (as well as) North Plains, Gaston, Gales Creek and the rest of rural Washington County, is outside of their boundary” Singelakis said. “There will be small-scale types of improvements, probably through Ride Connection. What will happen is Trimet, who collects the (tax) money, distributes it back out and will have to contract with Washington County to add services.”

Those services could include adding bus stops and frequency in Banks, North Plains, and Gaston, and Ride Connection services to surrounding rural areas. The taxes collected will be distributed where larger employers are located rather than where employees live, Singelakis said.

If the tax money was distributed where employees live, TriMet would be sending money to Washington state because so many people commute in (to Oregon) from Vancouver,” he said.

LUT assembled an advisory committee consisting of 11 members from Washington County, including Banks Mayor Pete Edison, North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan, Gaston Mayor Tony Hall, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, director of development and communications for Centro Cultural and now Metro Councilor-elect for District 4, and Washington County Commissioner Andy Duyck.

The committee held one meeting already and will convene again in August to begin finalizing a transit plan for the region, including rural areas like Gales Creek and Buxton, and to assemble “last-mile connections” throughout the county.

“I don’t want to raise everyone’s expectations because it is a very rural, low-density area in general we’re talking about, but (the $250,000) is something that will allow us to add to existing services,” Singelakis said.

Banks Transit Survey

The city of Banks conducted a transit survey through its website, completed by 136 citizens on June 21, in which it asked citizens a number of questions related to transportation wants and needs. Some of the answers provided were, arguably, surprising.

For instance, the first question on the survey asked “Were you aware that public transit services are available in Banks?” 57 percent of respondents answered “yes,” but 43 percent said no.

For the second question, “If you are not currently using public transit services, would you if you had more information on the services provided,” 56 percent answered “no” while 44 percent answered “yes.”

That’s about the same percentage of people indicating they would use public transportation if they had more information as there were who said they did not know public transit in Banks existed.

Additionally, almost 99 percent of respondents said they do not currently use the service provided by Ride Connection. Just 1 percent of survey participants (two people) indicated they use Ride Connection one to two times per week heading eastbound and westbound from Log Cabin Park. One person answered that he or she uses the service seven days per week, while the second used Ride Connection only on Saturdays.

Likewise, 99 percent of respondents said they do not use services provided by The Wave, which originates in Tillamook and connects to downtown Portland seven days per week for a round-trip flat fare of $20, or $15 one way.

Asked if Ride Connection or The Wave added times to their schedules, 28 people of the 136 that answered the city’s survey said they would use it for round-trip services.

Banks City Councilor Mark Gregg, whose seat is up for re-election this year — he indicated to the Banks Post that he is considering not running again after spending 10 years on the city council — said he doesn’t hear a lot of Banks residents talking about the need for more public transportation.

“We have two transit services coming through now with Ride Connection and The Wave,” Gregg said. “It’s not really frequent and you definitely have to know the schedule and plan your day. I’m no expert but I don’t think we’ll ever see anything as timely and efficient as urban areas, where buses stop at street corners every 15 minutes, just because of the volume of riders we have out here. If anything, and I’m guessing, what people need is more connections to Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Beaverton where a lot of people who live out here work. Speaking for myself, I would use something that connected to the MAX line to get into downtown Portland or to the airport without having to drive.”

Mayor Edison said the survey allowed the city of Banks to “really dig in and see what the transportation needs are,” but citizens still should be realistic in their expectations.

To be clear, the money doesn’t come directly to the cities in rural Washington County,” Edison said. “It will meet up probably with Ride Connection and (existing) services inside and outside of the TriMet district.”

The more the city knows about people’s needs, the more it can bring back to the LUT committee to make a case for Banks’ needs — the levels of services or maybe outreach to people about the services, Edison said.

“We’re trying to outreach to businesses in Banks and the community to see what people need to get to downtown Portland, or the MAX line in Hillsboro, or if they are more interested in connecting to Forest Grove,” he said. “Maybe there are needs (not covered in the survey) that we don’t know about. The more we know the better because then we can build a better case to provide better services in Banks.”

There still is time for citizen input. Citizens who want a say in how the tax money will be spent on public transportation in rural Washington County can reach out to city councilors, the city manager and the mayor. There also are opportunities for public input at city council meetings.

Banks City Council meetings take place the second Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. in the council chambers at 13690 NW Main Street in downtown Banks.

For more information contact the city at 503-324-5112 or submit email by going online to https://bit.ly/2tHqfkA.

Daniel Pearson

Daniel Pearson holds a bachelors in journalism and an MBA in marketing. He’s a10-time, Oregon SPJ award-winning journalist, a two-time winner of an ADDY (advertising) for copywriting, and a one-time award winner for fiction for the NW Coastal Writer’s Series. Email: daniel@bankspost.com Twitter: @rosecitywriting