Central Oregonians are familiar with this reoccurring scene: accumulated snowfall, slippery ice, wet slush and water wreaking havoc on our streets. Many gripe, shovel and then get on with their day, navigating to their office or classroom via car or on foot. But what if that wasn't an option, and you were trapped? For weeks?
"I've been stuck in my house for the past two weeks," begins Jordan Ohlde. "I'm a little mad." Ohlde has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Cascade East Transit (CET) is his only form of transportation and he relies on it to get to and from work. He hasn't been able to access the sidewalks, streets or bus pads due to the accumulated snow and flooded streets. He's missed work and simple errands have turned into near impossible tasks.
"When I called the City of Bend, they said the responsibility (of clearing snow) was with ODOT. When I called ODOT, they said it was CET. CET says it's the responsibility of property owners. They're passing the buck."
"Sidewalk accessibility goes hand in hand with being able to use public transportation. There is no doubt about that," says Judy Watts, outreach and engagement administrator for the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC). She makes it clear that these past three weeks have been a unique situation with many Central Oregonians, not just riders, struggling to travel. She agrees with CET's sentiments, "The city ordinance for Bend does state that it is the responsibility of the property owner or a resident or a business owner to maintain their sidewalks and to clear the snow off. CET staff will go periodically and shovel the bus pads...we have worked really hard to try and do as much as we possibly can with bus pads and clearing them out."
Ohlde disagrees. "If it was a priority, then I would be able to get around." Ohlde, although irritated, is sympathetic when he speaks about CET. He's not only a rider, but a veteran member of both the COCA Steering Committee and the Regional Transit Advisory Committee, raising awareness about the obstacles those with disabilities face. He has championed ODOT for safer sidewalks and curbs on busy streets like Greenwood Avenue. He is sympathetic but also disappointed in the disconnect between the City, ODOT and CET about who is responsible, and that still, weeks later, some stops are inaccessible.
"It feels like they are shifting the blame," he remarks. "They lean a lot on their code and city ordinance as a reason to not be doing things. How come you can't all work together? You're putting it on business owners and citizens of Bend?"
His solution: "I want us all to get together and talk about the barriers and to figure out the future of snow removal, so that we don't have to hassle people to get it on their radar."
When not dealing with inclement weather, increasing user accessibility is CET's top priority. According to Watts, who says: "We try and make our service better in order to make it more convenient and desirable for community members to ride transit and to think of it as an option that is just as good as driving their single occupancy vehicle. It's not just a bus service, it provides transportation for some individuals who need it, but also people who choose it."
In September 2015 CET expanded its service by about 30 percent, adding three new routes with direct service to St Charles, OSU-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College. A $1.5 million Redmond hub, slated for completion late this year, will feature a park and ride, bicycle lot and a sawtooth bus parking making it easier for riders to identify their routes. "Redmond is a regional hub with almost all of our community connectors coming through it," notes Watts. "So any transit investment that goes into it, benefits not only Redmond, but the entire Central Oregon region. Public transport is a great solution for some of our region's growing pains." In addition, CET is retooling its schedule on Feb. 6, an effort to sync connecting buses with other routes and adding a direct Sisters to Bend route.
Ohlde is supportive, but says, "My sense is they are going in a good direction, but there are no services offered on Sunday and a restricted service on Saturday," (apart from a fixed route, the Para-Transit system.) On weekdays, buses stop pickup by 7:30pm, restricting mobility. Ohlde wonders, "If they are worried about numbers, they should run a pilot program for six months, but I can guarantee you that if you make the service available, more than likely we will use it."
Watts says that identifying rider's needs is carried out mostly by the transit planner and feedback from riders. "We do have a few top priorities to choose from when we receive future funding and we will have to decide between those priorities and something that hasn't been identified by the public— which one serves the community the best, and serves the most amount of people."
Moving forward, both Watts and Ohlde urge people to voice ideas and concerns. Watts asserts, "Projects like these, plans that we work on, community input and partnerships, allow us to grow and build upon what we have set in place. Public transit in a community is just as needed as a library or as a park; it's part of the fabric of a livable community."
Cascades East Transit