Here’s some good news for people who rely on Community Connection’s buses and vans for transportation: services reduced earlier this year will be restored soon.
Community Connection buses and vans will be running more frequently thanks to grant funding from the state Jobs and Training Act and Special Transportation Operations Fund. Observer file photo
Community Connection, a non-profit social services agency, operates fixed-route and on-call paratransit services locally. Last April, budget constraints forced the agency to cut back.
But with $169,000 in grants from the state Jobs and Training Act and the Special Transportation Operations Fund, the agency will be able resume a schedule much like the one it ran before.“I’m grateful to our riders for putting up with the cuts, and it’s really nice to be putting them back,” said Transportation Manager Frank Thomas.
The mass transit program lost about 20 percent of its funding this year because of new guidelines set by the state. As a result, transportation schedules were pared back.
In April, Community Connection cut 10 hours of service from its fixed route schedule. But with the new funding, Thomas is proposing to restore eight hours.
Under his proposal, buses will run 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. Currently, fixed-route operation ends at 7 p.m. weekdays.
Before the cuts, buses started running at 7 a.m. weekdays, but Thomas
doesn’t think the early-morning half hour should be restored.
“The volume doesn’t support it,” he said.
Saturday hours, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., will remain unchanged, Thomas said.
On-call paratransit service for the elderly and disabled also suffered because of the cuts. Thomas said the hit was disproportionate because Community Connection traditionally provided services in excess of Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
Paratransit rides are arranged a day in advance. For those who use the service, perhaps the best news is Thomas’ proposal to restore three hours that were cut from Sunday’s schedule.
Prior to last April, paratransit services were available on Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After the cuts, rides were available only from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We’ll be restoring the Sunday hours that are most important to our paratransit riders,” Thomas said.
Monday-Friday paratransit hours, now set for 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., would be restored to 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Two hours of operation would also be added to the Saturday schedule.
In addition to restoring the schedules, Thomas said some of the grant money will be used for research and development of other projects.
One proposal is a valley connector route targeting riders in Cove and Union. The route would run through those communities, deviating to pick up paratransit-eligible passengers.
In La Grande, the route would run north and south, with connections to the existing fixed-route and major medical providers.
Also, grant money may be used to continue Community Connection’s peak demand demo project, in which a second shuttle runs La Grande’s fixed route in an opposite direction during peak hours.
Thomas said the demo project has been successful, providing an average of almost three rides per hour in its first two months of operation. Community Connection plans to continue it.
Thomas said he is currently gathering input on proposed changes from transit system users, and will make final decisions on restoration of hours and other issues based on what he hears.
Both the Jobs and Training Act and Special Transportation Operation Fund grants are for two years, and Thomas said he doesn’t know for certain if they will be renewed.
But he is cautiously optimistic.
“I don’t know if they’re ongoing, but I certainly hope they are,” he said.