The Chronicle -

Transformational transportation

County leaders made travel convenient, ecological

 

November 7, 2019

Dana Merryday/The Chronicle

Good old Bus No. 98, captured during a regular stop.

All aboard the LTD bus!

We are a one-vehicle family. With my wife out of town with the truck, I have fared fairly well walking and biking around town for my needs. But this past week I had to get to and from Eugene for a doctor's appointment, a returning airport shuttle, and wanted to catch "Fortune's Folly" in concert on Halloween night.

Well, mission accomplished on all fronts, thanks to the Lane Transit District (LTD) workhorse bus, the good old Route 98.

This transportation service offers nine trips from Cottage Grove to Creswell and on to the big city nine times on weekdays, three times on Saturdays and twice on Sundays. This limited schedule still allowed me to make all of my destinations, even if I had to wait until the next morning to get home from the concert (but that is another story...)

This bus service that seems to be taken for granted is a story of persistent organizing effort and struggle to establish.

In the 1950s as many as eight bus companies served Cottage Grove. But as the automobile gained in popularity and became available after World War II-induced shortages, ridership on the buses declined and most bus lines to our area disappeared.

In '69, Governor Tom McCall signed a transportation bill from the legislature that enabled cities to levy a transportation tax to fund public transit. Municipalities could choose either, and an LTD was formed. One provision the newly appointed LTD board made was that bus service was by invitation only.

Since the '70s, Cottage Grove was flush with mill and forest jobs and there was little need for bus service to Eugene (mill owners didn't want to foot the payroll tax.) There was a hostile rejection to LTD's invitation to have service come to Cottage Grove.

In the early '90s, with the recession and loss of jobs in the wood products industry, the nature of employment changed in town.

Around this time, the City of Cottage Grove – aided by a grant from the state – started developing a transportation systems plan, which included everything from roads, bikes, pedestrians, pipelines and public transportation options.

In '94, a bicycle committee chaired by Don Nordin was working on developing bike paths and bike lanes. The committee also turned its attention to the need for a public transit connection to the Springfield-Eugene area.

After talking with City Manager Jeff Towery and LTD officials, the group chose to inject issues into the November '94 city council elections. Candidates supporting the public transportation option were not successful in this election.

This led to a public meeting and a group, "Friends of LTD," formed.

It took three more attempts at the ballot box and lots of grassroots organizing and publicity to overcome the opposition of the business community and the Chamber of Commerce resistance.

This was mainly due to the payroll tax, but finally the effort to be annexed into the LTD came to be.

One of the strategies from the group was to petition for a "test service" of buses to Eugene. This also took several attempts before passing and in '97 the temporary bus service began to Cottage Grove and Creswell.

It proved very popular with often standing room only. Interestingly, the attempt to join LTD and make the service permanent was again voted down in Cottage Grove but Creswell chose to be annexed into the Lane Transportation District and continued to be served by the No. 98 when Cottage Grove bowed out.

Finally, in '99, the efforts to join LTD found fruit and daily bus service became available to Grovers who had no auto transport to Eugene. This service has been an important link to Springfield-Eugene for students, workers and seniors.

At the city council meeting in January 2019, LTD and local provider South Lane Wheels announced some changes: The through-town route that made numerous stops in Cottage Grove would be discontinued except for the first two runs in the morning and the last one at night. The No. 98 bus would otherwise stop at the Walmart Transportation Center only. South Lane Wheels would provide the connector service of picking up passengers and getting them to both the bus and other in-town destinations. This LTD connector service, called "Mobility on Demand" (MOD) is to be offered as a pilot program until February 2020.

Using Mobility on Demand (MOD)

To use MOD, available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, patrons need to use a mobile app on their phones or call the South Lane Wheels dispatcher at 541-942-0456.

Rides are $1 and are coordinated by the order they are called in and where the connector shuttle is at the time of the call. After the trial period a more permanent option will be decided based on the usage by the ridership.

Don Nordin, still active in transportation issues and serving on several boards, reported that the MOD is proving popular with local riders, with some peak days of over 125 rides scheduled. He also informed me of some other transit perks and other options that are in the works.

On the plus side for seniors 65 and older, there is the honor pass. This allows free transit on LTD buses and is available at the LTD Transit Center on 11th at Willamette in Eugene. Other options are available for students and patrons receiving social services. The Transit Center can assist with those passes.

Another innovation is the Touch Pass. This allows riders to load an account with funds and then to use either an app on your phone or a card available at the transit center to swipe rides on all buses except the EMX (you can of course ride the EMX without swiping). This system will also replace the monthly paper pass as of January 2020.

Lastly there is another transportation system being developed by the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG) called Link Lane. This intergovernmental agency is seeking to provide services to rural communities and those outside of areas of current coverage, so stay tuned for developments as they are created.

While it is nice to have the convenience of an automobile, it is also great to know that when it is not available there is a way to get to where you need to be.

It is also nice to acknowledge all the hard work that has gone into getting and maintaining these public transportation services, so thank you LTD, South Lane Wheels and the Friends of LTD for all of your efforts. Take the bus!

Dana Merryday can be reached at 541-942-7037 online at [email protected]

 
 

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