Jean Sherbeck, Transit Committee Member
Polk County is served by two public transit systems + Cherriots and Chemeketa Area Regional Transportation System (CARTS) in rural Polk County. Cherriots serves West Salem and one route (2X), between Salem and Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde. (1) CARTS routes serve Dallas, Monmouth, and Independence, with one stop in West Salem after leaving the Salem Transit Mall. (2)
In fiscal year 2010 – 2011, CARTS provided 68,893 rides in Polk County and 49,989 in Marion County. This report will focus on the transit system for Polk County excluding West Salem.
CARTS Fixed, Express and Flex Routes in Polk County: Fixed Route 40 travels from Salem to Dallas, then to Monmouth, Independence and back to the Transit Mall. Express Route 50 runs twice a day between Dallas and Salem, its trips timed for commuters. Flex routes spend a set amount of time in each of the three Polk County cities picking up riders by reservation at regular stops or requested locations and delivering them within the same city or in another city on the circular route. Flex routes, which served over 16,000 Polk County rides in 2010 + 2011, do not go into Salem.
Management and funding: CARTS service is managed by Salem-Keizer Transit and operated by a contractor, MV Transportation. Salem-Keizer Transit does the planning for CARTS, hires the operator-contractor, and administers grants and allotments that are distributed through ODOT. Of last fiscal year’s total CARTS funding of over one million dollars, twenty percent ($222,176) came from passenger fares. Federal and state grants and allotments provide the remaining eighty percent. Federal Section 5310 funds are for elderly and disabled users; Section 5311 provides for rural transportation systems. Where matching funds are required by federal grants, state funds are used. The two largest state sources are the Special Transportation Fund (STF) and the Special Transportation Operating Fund (STO), both for transportation for seniors and people with disabilities. Mona West of Cherriots reports that she submits sixteen different applications through ODOT for state and federal funding for CARTS. Each fund has different regulations and objectives + some are used for capital projects, others for operations, some for both uses. There is no local property tax funding for CARTS, although it is an allowable possibility for cities and counties.
Services Provided: CARTS buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts and bicycle racks. Wheeelchair users need to be able to get to the curb for both the scheduled and Flex routes. Any rider who lives within ¾ mile of a regularly scheduled route (which amounts to just about anywhere in the three cities) can be served by the Flex route with a reservation made the day prior. Flex routes also connect riders with the regularly scheduled CARTS buses.
Unmet Needs for Service: Bus service in Polk County is infrequent and inconvenient. Neither Cherriots nor CARTS offers service on weekends, or CARTS in the evening. The last run departs Salem for Polk County at 6:05 p.m. It is a barrier for job seekers to find jobs, get retraining, or upgrade their employment with such limited transit options. Potential riders cannot get to evening or weekend social and entertainment events, shopping, and restaurants.
Transit-dependent Chemeketa Community College students from rural Polk County are limited to daytime classes, as are Western Oregon University students. The last outbound trip from WOU departs at 5:30 p.m. There are no services available for agricultural and cannery workers.
Geoff Heatherington, Polk County Mental Health Manager, stated in an interview that clients on Medicaid Plus (Oregon Health Plan for children and people with disabilities) are eligible for Trip Link service, which is provided by private contractors for medical appointments only. People on standard Medicaid need to find their own transportation. Mr. Heatherington also voiced a concern that disabled clients, in group homes, for instance, are unable to attend social or other events on weekends and evenings due to lack of transportation at those times. He also observed that poor and disabled clients in distant parts of the county, such as Falls City, Grand Ronde, and Willamina, have no or very inconvenient transportation options. Even weekly service by CARTS to those locations would be helpful to bring people to Dallas for their appointments and other activities. (Incidentally, there are other transportation options in Polk County to bring residents to medical appointments, including a West Valley Hospital service, which does have a distance limitation.)
Fares: CARTS one-way fares are $2.00 for adults and $1.25 for youth (6-18), seniors (60+), and disabled. Monthly passes are $55.00 and $35.00 respectively. CARTS riders who need to transfer to a Cherriots bus must pay the Cherriots fare. It is possible for Polk County CARTS riders to transfer to other CARTS buses at the Transit Mall without paying an additional fare. Two Marion County CARTS routes stop at the Chemeketa Community College campus.
Advisory groups: There is a Polk County Transportation Advisory Committee for CARTS operations that meets quarterly. Another group is the state-mandated Special Transportation Fund (STF) Advisory Committee for Polk County. That group recommends projects to fund, reviews and coordinates planning, and reports to the Salem Area Mass Transit District Board (Cherriots’ Board) of Directors. It consists of nine members chosen to represent in a balanced way the needs of seniors and people with disabilities, people in areas with no public transportation, providers of services to seniors and disabled, and transit-dependent people.
(1) Spirit Mountain Casino subsidizes this route, which coincides with the employees’ shifts. There are two stops between Grand Ronde and Salem, at Rickreall Park and Ride located at the Polk County Fairgrounds, and West Salem Safeway on Edgewater Road.
(2) CARTS also operates in Marion County, with routes going between Salem and Woodburn, Gervais and Brooks; Silverton and Mt. Angel; and a southeast loop linking Turner, Aumsville, Sublimity, Stayton, Mehama, Lyons, Mill City and Gates.