City News

Cherriots hopes to add Albany express service, increase frequency in coming years

Leaders of the Salem Area Mass Transit District want to add significantly expand regional transit services over the next 20 years, including adding bus service to Albany and having more frequent local routes.

Those improvements are outlined in the agency’s first long-range plan, which the Cherriots board will consider at a Thursday evening meeting.

The plan is the result of over a year of conversations with community stakeholders. 

“We haven’t done something like this – where we’ve looked this far ahead – in the past,” said Ian Davidson, Cherriots board president.

The plan is split into five, 10 and 20 year timeframes that include various plans including an express route between Salem and Albany and new technology. Whether the agency’s plans will happen as outlined depends on securing state and federal grants.

To develop the long term plan, Cherriots did two online surveys, one in winter 2021 and another in summer 2022, and met with leaders within different organizations representing marginalized groups. They included older adults, people with disabilities, refugees and people of color. 

From those surveys and conversations, Cherriots identified 11 common themes, including a need to increase transportation frequency, affordability, reliability and accessibility.

Chris French, service planning manager, said a previous survey of riders showed similar themes. Their engagement included outreach in rural communities such as Monmouth and Independence, and interviews with stakeholder groups. 

“We know what our riders want, but hearing it from the public as well, the general public, helped validate some of that. That it’s not just riders, it addresses the whole community,” French said.

Cherriots operates with a combination of local, state and federal funding. In 2017, the state passed HB 2017 which created a statewide fund for public transportation. Cherriots received $4.7 million from the fund in 2022.

The organization used the funds in recent years to reinstate Saturday service for the first time in a decade, and add Sunday service for the first time ever.

Whether they can expand further to fulfill the long-range plan will depend on finding resources.

“Unfortunately, we do not have the funding in place to be able to run the Salem to Albany express service, for example,” Davidson said, which a 2021 feasibility study said could cost up to $366,000 annually. “But we have laid the groundwork to when we do have funding available, we’ve conducted all the studies and done our due diligence, we believe it is a service that is needed and that would serve our residents, our community.”

The long range plan calls for the agency to add service and improve frequency. The board already adopted a goal of 15-minute weekday service for the core network’s high-use routes, and 30 minute service on standard routes. 

Davidson said they’ve made progress, but some routes – including route 4 that he uses – don’t have 15-minute frequency yet.  

To meet frequency goals, and to improve it further in the future, Cherriots plans to add additional buses. Agency leaders have a goal to transition the fleet to zero-emission vehicles by 2040. 

Davidson said there are 15 electric buses incoming or with funds prepared. They’ve ordered 10 he said are due to arrive early next year. In 2020, Cherriots received a $3.573 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to buy five electric buses. 

Cherriots also plans to introduce electronic fare by September 2023, through a contract with Umo Mobility. They will begin replacing equipment early next year, so riders can use mobility cards for tap-and-go fare payment. 

The plan also aims to increase reach and accessibility to different types of transportation. That could include smaller vehicles to go further into neighborhoods to bring riders to a bus, or online planning to complete a longer trip using a train, rented bike or Uber.

“We are very keen on becoming a mobility integrator, and that’s a fancy industry term to say we want to help residents of our community get from point A to point B, whether or not they ride the bus,” Davidson said.

The Long Term Transit plan works in conjunction with Cherriots’ strategic plan and their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan.

Davidson said he thinks the long term plan is a significant step for the agency.

“We are committing to serving our community well into the future, that we’re thinking 20 years ahead,” he said. “We as an agency have been around for almost 45 years, and we fully intend to be serving our community, in the ways that the community needs, 45 years from now.”

To participate: The Board of Directors meeting will be in-person Thursday, Dec. 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the Senator Hearing Room on the ground floor of Courthouse Square at 555 Court Street N.E., and also live streamed by Capital Community Media online and on channel 21 for Comcast users. View the agenda here.

Public comment will be accepted during the meeting, in person or by Zoom. Written testimony will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Thursday. Written comments can be emailed to [email protected].

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.