Looking at losses of at least $30,000 for the next fiscal year, Union County Transit Manager Frank Thomas said three government grants are pending. These grants would help maintain current service to Elgin on Wednesdays and to Union on Thursdays and possibly expand service in La Grande. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Community Connection has grants pending to maintain, expand current local service
by KELLY DUCOTE / The Observer
Union County public transit could face big changes in the upcoming fiscal year.
Community Connection of Northeast Oregon has three grants on the table for the 2013-14 fiscal year beginning July 1. Two grants could impact service to Elgin and Union while a third could help to reinstate Saturday public transit in La Grande.
Looking at losses of at least $30,000 for the next fiscal year, Union County Transit Manager Frank Thomas said two government grants, one from Section 5310 and another from Section 5311(f), are pending. These grants would help maintain the current service to Elgin on Wednesdays and to Union on Thursdays.
“One of those grants would help sustain it,” Thomas said. “If we get both, it could expand services to those rural areas.”
The Section 5310 grant is a state-funded grant that targets public transit for the elderly and disabled, while the 5311(f) is federally funded and more efficiency-oriented.
“5311(f) cares about getting people from these rural areas to a larger system,” Thomas said.
Ideally, Thomas said, Community Connection would win both grants and be able to optimize service.
“If you look at customer service and efficiency at opposite ends of the spectrum, my goal is to meet in the middle to where I’m efficient enough to get people to use public transit and using customer service enough to get people to come back,” Thomas said.
Without either of these grants, service to Elgin and Union could undergo some changes, but Thomas said he would do whatever it takes to maintain service to those areas.
“Any change that we make has to go through a public process,” Thomas said. “I would do half a dozen things before we stopped service. I will commit to not leaving these communities.”
Back in La Grande, Thomas is optimistic about another Section 5310 grant that could revamp Saturday service in downtown. Community Connection has submitted a Saturday transit proposal to the county commissioners. Thomas will present the proposal to the commissioners for financial assistance at the end of May.
One of the biggest impacts of Saturday service is “ringing registers,” Thomas said.
“If we can add another day where we’re putting people in the downtown core, that’s a darn good thing,” he said.
Fifteen percent of fixed route passengers disembarked at or between Max Square and Safeway, according to Community Connection’s most recent boarding study conducted in November 2012. This suggests passengers are getting off with the intent to invest in the local economy, Thomas said.
With a history of Saturday service, which ended in January 2011 due to funding cuts, Thomas is hopeful that Community Connection can secure that grant.
“I hope we get it. I think we have a good shot at this one,” he said.
Thomas expects to know about all three grants within the next month, and though he cannot tell for sure what the next fiscal year will hold for Community Connection, he said he is determined to make it work for all communities currently involved.
“What I can tell without qualification is that we will still be in those communities,” he said. “It may not look the same, but we will be there.”