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News / Clark County News

C-Tran’s possible elimination of Route 39 stirs anxiety, anger

Transit agency cites low ridership on route that serves Rose Village, other areas

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian environment and transportation reporter
Published: April 19, 2019, 6:02am
4 Photos
Carolyn Hayden of Vancouver chats with the bus driver as she boards C-Tran’s Route 39 on Thursday. Hayden is a veteran and she said she uses the route often to get to the VA Portland Health Care System Vancouver Campus. She routinely bakes bread for C-Tran staff, but she says she’ll stop if Route 39 is eliminated.
Carolyn Hayden of Vancouver chats with the bus driver as she boards C-Tran’s Route 39 on Thursday. Hayden is a veteran and she said she uses the route often to get to the VA Portland Health Care System Vancouver Campus. She routinely bakes bread for C-Tran staff, but she says she’ll stop if Route 39 is eliminated. Photo by Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Carolyn Hayden, known to some as the bread lady, has been baking bread for C-Tran staff for years, dropping off loaves at the Vancouver Mall or Fisher’s Landing transit centers.

But if the transit agency cuts her bus route, Route 39, they’re cut off.

All respect to the drivers and staff, she said aboard the bus Wednesday, but if C-Tran goes through with cutting the route as part of proposed service changes, it’ll disproportionately impact veterans like her, getting around town or heading to the VA Portland Health Care System Vancouver Campus.

So, no more bread.

“I love them to death, but if they don’t support us vets, I’m done,” she said.

The transit agency is proposing removing Route 39 due to low ridership, and its route planners say its resources could be used to move more people along other routes.

C-Tran calculates ridership as passengers served per hour of revenue-generating service from a vehicle. C-Tran’s average in October was 22.4 passengers per revenue hour for a route, for 307,000 hours of service annually.

The agency’s demarcation for a low-performing route is 11.2 passengers per revenue hour, or half the system average. Route 39’s average was 9.1 passengers per revenue hour that month.

In 2016, the route saw 34,779 riders. The route was modified that September, leaving it at its current shape and schedule. In 2017, the route had about 41,400 riders. The next year, 2018, that ridership declined by about 11 percent, to about 36,700 riders.

C-Tran’s running challenge, spokeswoman Christine Selk said, is to balance its vehicles and routes so as to maximize service, and all within its resources and rules, ensuring no ridership group is unfairly affected.

“We have to look for the most efficient way to distribute the number of service hours that we have, systemwide, in any given year,” Selk said. “If you have a very, very low-performing route, it’s going to hold you back in providing the most efficient service systemwide.”

C-Tran’s most recent biennial budget included money for an additional 6,000 hours of service, a roughly 2 percent increase. Other proposed changes would increase frequency for some routes, such as Route 71 from Hazel Dell into downtown Vancouver. Another change would add a route from the Fisher’s Landing Transit center to Portland International Airport, where roughly 40 percent of employees come from Clark County, according to C-Tran.

Staff looks at Census demographic information — income, minorities, seniors, disabled people, car owners and English usage — within a quarter-mile of a bus route to ensure route changes wouldn’t violate civil rights laws.

“We would check to make sure that we were within those guidelines before making any service changes,” Selk said.

The agency has monitored performance on the route, down to segments of the route, and tried to hold on to parts that saw more use, prioritizing connections between major destinations such as downtown and the VA campus, or to serve Rose Village, she said.

Route 39 is the only one that serves the Rose Village neighborhood directly, with stops along 33rd Street.

However, said C-Tran Senior Planner Roger Hanson at April 9’s C-Tran board meeting, Rose Village has relatively low ridership.

“The struggle we had was that, when you for over the course of the day along the stretch of 33rd between Grand and H Street, was that the nine stop totals, for example, in the east-bound direction only generated an average of 7.3 riders a day,” Hanson said. “Going the other direction it was 12.”

“Normally, one rider per stop would be considered low and unproductive. This is well below the standard that we’d look at for fixed-route service,” Hanson said.

Selk said the agency is looking at options to provide some level of service to Rose Village, but said she could not yet elaborate.

Route 39 is also one of two routes, with Route 6, with stops on the Vancouver VA campus. Several routes — including The Vine, Route 35, Route 25, and Route 30 — stop nearby the VA.

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In another presentation to the C-Tran board, Hanson said only two stops on Route 29, at the VA and at Broadway and Evergreen downtown, see more than five riders per hour, with 33.3 at the VA and 13.7 downtown. The 58 other stops see an average of 1.2 riders per day.

Route 6, meanwhile, sees 140 riders going to the VA daily, he said. Route 37 sees 297 passengers per day at the Broadway and Evergreen stop.

“There are no real strong segments in this route,” he said of Route 39. “We’ve tried to look at different things that we could do, but the real issue is that this is sort of an infill route.”

It appears, he said, that riders are preferring to walk to The Vine, which has more frequent service.

Ed Van Essen, another Route 39 rider, said he uses the route often, and he and his girlfriend wrote C-Tran to ask for the route to be retained.

He’s been riding the route since it opened, and the routes that covered the area before.

“I think it would be an inconvenience to a lot of people, especially to disabled people who have a hard time getting anywhere else,” he said.

Clark County Veterans Assistance Center President Judy Russel said she’d only heard some talk about the route changes. She’s been dealing with other potential patron access questions, but she’s also concerned about what losing that route could mean for her clients with mobility problems.

“If they have to go to a different line or transfer to a different line, not only is it going to take more time, it’s inconvenient,” she said. “When you can’t walk well, it’s really inconvenient for you to have to make a transfer.”

So far, about 180 people have submitted comments to C-Tran regarding the proposed service changes.

The route changes are still being reviewed, and the agency is still soliciting public comments. The C-Tran board is scheduled to review and possibly approve route changes, which would go into effect in September, at its May 14 meeting.

Columbian environment and transportation reporter