The Sunset Empire Transportation District’s information kiosk in Seaside, which opened May 8, may be a prelude to more efforts by the public transit agency to increase its presence and services in the city.
The kiosk is a good place for people to get transit information, maps or tickets and passes, but in recent years, the district has recognized the need for a bigger transportation facility in Seaside, said Jeff Hazen, the district’s executive director.
A few years ago, the district received a matching grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation’s ConnectOregon program to build a facility in Seaside, but when the agency couldn’t muster the necessary matching funds, it had to decline the grant and temporarily abandon the project. At that time, the project involved a partnership with a daycare and the South County Community Food Bank, which has since moved. More recently, the district has considered other funding options to build a Seaside transit center but nothing has materialized yet, and the project is entirely dependent on funding, Hazen said.
“It’s something I am going to keep my eye on,” he said.
As opposed to the small Seaside customer service kiosk, located at the Seaside Factory Outlet Center on North Roosevelt Drive, the facility would be a one-stop transit hub that would have a lobby, restrooms and more waiting areas, as well as parking options for people taking longer trips.
Additionally, Hazen said, the district always is looking for easier transitions and connections between the Cannon Beach bus and the Highway 101 bus, which currently connect behind the Seaside Cinema on 12th Avenue. Something on the highway might provide better access, he said.
Having that presence would be good for South County, Hazen said. “It would be good for the district, because we want to be relevant throughout the whole county,” he said.
Seaside is the source of many visitors each year. Its location on U.S. Highway 101 also makes it susceptible to congestion, a source of frustration for those who live and work in the city. Public transportation can help mitigate congestion and increase accessibility for Seaside riders, Hazen said.
“We can be part of that solution,” he said. “If some of those people weren’t driving those cars and were riding the bus, that’s less vehicles on the highway.”
A Seaside transit facility also would fit well into the Northwest Oregon’s regional transit system, North by Northwest CONNECTOR. The alliance consists of Sunset Empire Transportation District, the Columbia County Rider, the Tillamook County Transportation District, Lincoln County Transit and Benton County Rural Transit.
“We’re all in this together,” Hazen said. “We’re not competing against each other. We’re all providing a service in rural America. The more we can connect, the better off we’re all going to be.”
Elsewhere throughout the district, the agency is moving forward with some changes. For instance, the district is considering the addition of a new service to get riders to Portland. The district’s bus currently connects with the Columbia County Rider either in Westport or Clatskanie, and riders can continue on to Portland with bus changes along the way.
Sunset Empire Transportation District and the Columbia County Rider are working toward a new intercity route that would connect in Rainier, where riders could choose between going to Portland or Longview, Wash. The route would run twice per day, seven days per week.
“We felt it would be a lot less confusing,” Hazen said.
The agencies are hoping to start that service by Aug. 1. At its July 23 meeting, the district’s Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the matter.
“It’s really important we engage the public in those decisions,” Hazen said.
The district also plans to add more frequent rides between Astoria and Seaside on Highway 101 starting in August. There used to be hourly service, but when the district faced financial difficulties that changed, Hazen said. The goal is to bring back hourly service during peak times, such as morning and late afternoon.
Another priority for the district this year is increasing transportation for veterans.
“There are a lot of gaps there,” Hazen said.
The Veterans Administration runs a bus from Astoria to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland. The problem is many local veterans don’t have a way to get to that van, Hazen said. The district and other partners are considering solutions, including a volunteer group that could provide a sort of dial-a-ride service for veterans. Since the district doesn’t have “an endless supply of money,” volunteers and other partners are important to help the agency overcome challenges and provide better service, Hazen said.