COVID relief and payroll tax funds are helping fill gaps, expand service
When you live in a small community, for example, Brownsville, you don’t normally have the option of taking public transit. Some might say, “Why would you? It’s a small town.” And it’s true that traditionally, buses and trains serve our larger cities.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need; Kindra Oliver has found that out first-hand over the past few years.
“Our program ridership has actually skyrocketed,” said Oliver, director of LINX Transit, which stands for Lebanon Inter-Neighborhood eXpress. “Last fiscal year, we provided just over 30,000 rides. Prior to that, our ridership was averaging right around 20,000. And this year, we’re on track to hit 45,000 rides.”
Lebanon boasts a 2021 (est.) population of 18,945, so providing 45,000 rides a year is pretty significant.
“We’ve had a lot of growth in the Lebanon community,” Oliver said. “We have a lot of low-income residential areas, a lot of apartment complexes that have been going up – I think we have seen more growth here than many other areas in Oregon.”
It makes sense, really. Lebanon is located in the central Willamette Valley, relatively close to several population centers – Eugene, Corvallis, Albany and Salem – but not in those more populous areas, so the cost of living (e.g. housing) is likely lower. The need to get where you need to go, though, is still there.
Riders using transit for many reasons
LINX offers three ways to get around on public transportation: LINX Loop, LINX Dial-a-Bus and the Brownsville Connector. The LINX Loop offers regular service at seven stops around town, Monday – Saturday (and can even depart from the route up to ¾ mile upon request). Dial-a-Bus is the “on demand” portion of LINX’s service, providing curb-to-curb transportation for seniors, people with disabilities and others. The Brownsville Connector is a new service that started in June 2022 as a pilot, offering five round trips from Lebanon to Brownsville, each Tuesday and Friday. In its first quarter, it provided 451 rides, and Oliver said it’s growing in popularity.
“The beauty of the Brownsville project is we’re not only bringing Brownsville residents into Lebanon, we also have Lebanon residents going to Brownsville,” she said. “And it’s this charming little community with some really nice little restaurants and some shops and museums, and they have a nice walking area through town.”
It’s not just a chance to getaway – Oliver is seeing folks come from Brownsville on the new Connector that need to do their shopping or run other errands in Lebanon. She knows that because the route can deviate if needed, and riders are often asking to be dropped at or near their homes because they can’t walk far with bags full of groceries. Meet the driver Michael and a few passengers, including a chihuahua named Minnie, in this brief video.
Another area where there is rider growth, according to Oliver, is with commuters.
“I have noticed that we’re providing a lot more rides for getting people to work. You know, some going to businesses downtown, some to Walmart and fast food locations,” she said. “I’ve definitely seen an increase there.”
Staying connected in meaningful ways
One of the best things public transit like LINX does is help people stay connected. In 2019, LINX started providing service up to three miles outside the city limits, and now it serves up to five miles outside the city limits. In the mid-Willamette Valley, there are many people living on the outskirts.
“We have riders, you know, that have been living in their homes for 30, 40 or 50 years. Certainly as people age, there comes a time where they may have to give up their driving,” Oliver said. “So if we can give them options to get into town for medical appointments, shopping, banking, social opportunities, whatever the case might be, well, we have found it’s been a really good service to provide.”
Residents of Crabtree, Waterloo, Sodaville and surrounding areas can get rides into Lebanon and connect with the Linn Shuttle, which can take riders east to Sweet Home or west into Albany. Stops in Albany include Linn Benton Community College (students and staff ride free), the Albany Amtrak Station and other locations.
“We’re actually able to provide quite a few linkages for riders,” Oliver said. “We are doing our best to try to keep up with the demand of our community and help serve them.”