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Statesman-Journal: PSU students studying area transit needs
Author: Joce DeWitt
Posted: April 14, 2014

Read the original article in the Statesman Journal here.

With the help of six master’s students from Portland State University, Salem-Keizer Transit has reached out to the community to see how public transportation can better meet their needs.

The six students, who hail from the university’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning program, distributed surveys and held a series of workshops in Keizer and South and West Salem over the past couple weeks to hear opinions and concerns from residents regarding the bus system.

The group is called Paradigm Planning, and its project, essentially a capstone project for their program, aims to develop ways to make Salem-Keizer Transit more efficient and accessible. It is called Capturing the Ride.

Mike Sellinger, editor of Capturing the Ride, said that the project addresses a challenge that the area faces — specifically Keizer, South and West Salem.

“It’s hard to provide effective transit to low-density areas,” Sellinger said.

Toward the end of last year, the program received requests from various agencies regarding the project that the students — all of whom specialize in transportation — were working on. Salem-Keizer was one of about 40 agencies that responded, Sellinger said.

Brenda Martin, communications manager for Paradigm Planning, said that after the group decided on the Salem-Keizer project, the six students rode the buses and surveyed community members about why they do or don’t regularly use public transportation.

“We did just ride the buses to talk to people and hear about what they were interested in,” Martin said. “We tried to have as much of a conversation with folks, riders and nonriders, to tell us why they weren’t riding transit.”

At the three workshops, the students explained their alternative options and asked attendees to fill out surveys.

Based on research of case studies and best practices used by other systems across the country, they introduced two variations of what they call Flexible Transit, which bridges the gap between Salem-Keizer’s traditional transit options: regular buses and Dial-a-Ride Cherry Lifts.

“What we are trying to figure out is, is there a complimentary alternative to our fixed-route service ... we could offer that would work well,” said Sadie Carney, community relations officer for Salem-Keizer Transit. “The neighborhoods they’re focusing on are Keizer, West Salem and South Salem, where there are connectivity issues where streets don’t go all the way through.”

One option the students introduced is called the Deviator, which most closely resembles regular bus service. It has a predetermined route and scheduled stops. It differs from a normal bus route, however, in that it will go off its normal route when needed or requested to pick customers up or drop them off. Other states used something like the Deviator in systems with a similar market to Salem-Keizer, including Missouri, Virginia and Minnesota.

The second alternative is the Hopper, which is more like dial-a-ride service or a shared taxi. It has fewer regular bus stops for jumping on and off, but it can go anywhere in a neighborhood when a customer gives notice ahead of time. Case studies included systems in Michigan, Jacksonville and Washington.

“Current fixed routes in Salem-Keizer serve areas that are not dense, but people still ride them,” said CJ Doxsee. “If you’re running empty buses on these roads, you’re losing money.”

Community members at the outreach meeting in South Salem, held at the South Salem Seniors center Wednesday, appeared to take a general interest in the flexible alternative options.

Lola Krissel is a resident at the senior center. While she is not a regular rider, she liked the idea of the alternative options.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” she said. “I don’t know that it’ll help in my case. I would have to see it.”

Jonathan Grindell is a law student at Willamette University and attended the same workshop. While he often rides his bike, Grindell estimated he rides the bus about once a month.

As an “able-bodied” young person, the alternative options don’t necessarily apply to him, but it’s good to open up the conversation, he said.

“I think it’s definitely good. It could help some underserved folks,” Grindell said.

A primary concern among several workshop attendees, however, was something that Capturing the Ride does not address with its alternatives: lack of Saturday service. Restoring Saturday buses is the top priority for the transit district, Carney said. She does not anticipate Capturing the Ride will have a major impact on the issue.

Ideally, Sellinger said, making the transit system more efficient could potentially open up more funding that could go toward restoring it.

Martin said that the group would like to offer ideas, based on community feedback, that the transit center can explore and possibly initiate a pilot program

“Our major goal is really getting the board of directors to pass our plan and recommendations,” she said.

Carney said the intent is to not let the project be an exercise in thinking but to take a look at the valuable work the students have done and see how it could come to fruition.

“We’ll get recommendations from the student group and let’s say there is one that seems like a really cost-effective idea, we would probably try it out one area at a time,” Carney said.