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ODOT’s new Columbia Gorge Express bus has already carried thousands of riders

Posted by on June 14th, 2016 at 12:14 pm

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“There was a really great energy in the bus,” our contributor Kate Laudermilk wrote about her trip. “I overheard a lot of conversations between complete strangers.”
(Photo: Kiel Johnson)

Three weekends in, the new bus line that offers $5 round trips between Gateway Transit Center, Rooster Rock State Park and Multnomah Falls is going gangbusters.

The buses, subsidized in part by the Oregon Department of Transportation, offer 12 departures a day from Friday to Sunday and each one has a rack that carries up to three bicycles.

Conceived as a way to cut congestion on Interstate 84 and take pressure off parking space in the Gorge, the buses carried more than 4,600 rides during their four-day launch weekend, including Memorial Day. Last weekend, the buses carried 1,477 rides.

Just a 20 minute trip from Gateway to Rooster Rock.

Just a 20 minute trip from Gateway to Rooster Rock.

“While this is only our third weekend of service, the early indications are encouraging,” said Karyn Criswell, a regional transit coordinator for ODOT’s Portland regional office, in an email Monday. “We are hearing great stories from passengers who previously didn’t have access to Multnomah Falls due to financial and/or mobility limitations that are now able to experience one of Oregon’s most beautiful destinations. In fact, I have a lovely hand-written note posted on my wall!”

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Service will continue on weekends through September 25th. The first departure is at 8:45 am and the last bus leaves Multnomah Falls at 6:00 pm. The trip takes about 20 minutes one-way.

ODOT has committed to a two-year pilot project and they’ll evaluate how it works at the end of 2017. If the response meets their expectations the transit line could expand to Hood River.

waiting for gorge bus

People waiting in line to board the Gorge bus on Memorial Day weekend.
(Photo: Kate Laudermilk)

For a first-person account of a trip on the Columbia Gorge Express, see contributor Kate Laudermilk’s latest Gal by Bike column, or see our coverage of the shuttle’s May 27 launch for other basic details.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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29 Comments
  • Avatar
    Ohamerica June 14, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Just have a max line go out there.

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      ethan June 14, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      If there is to be a MAX line in that area, I would rather have it start as a line from St. Johns to Troutdale. It would connect thousands of jobs and tons of residential. Then extend it to Multnomah falls in a second phase.

      That’s my personal opinion.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. June 14, 2016 at 2:02 pm

        MAX to St. Johns needs to happen yesterday.

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          Ray Ogilvie June 14, 2016 at 7:23 pm

          Doesnt the Yellow Line Get pretty close?

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            adventure! June 14, 2016 at 7:44 pm

            If your definition of “pretty close” means “four miles”, then yes. Four miles is the approx. distance from the N Lombard TC MAX station to the heart of St Johns (Lombard at Philadelphia) via N Lombard St.

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              Ray Ogilvie June 15, 2016 at 5:36 pm

              Yeah, at 16mph that’s 15 minutes. That’s not too far.

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                adventure! June 15, 2016 at 7:12 pm

                Well, sure, going that speed on busy Lombard may considered “not too far” for those who roll that way. But I’m feeling like more folks on bikes would want to choose a less traveled street at a somewhat slower pace. So it would look more like a half hour for those folks. And this isn’t taking into account people on foot…

                Then again, if you are biking at a 16 mph clip down arterial streets, would you really need MAX anyways? 😉

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              • Adam H.
                Adam H. June 15, 2016 at 11:06 pm

                Believe it or not, sometimes I don’t want to ride my bike, especially if I have to deal with bringing it on MAX first.

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        lop June 16, 2016 at 7:07 pm

        Probably won’t happen anytime soon. St. Johns-Troutdale didn’t perform as well as some other potential corridors when Metro looked at it.

        http://www.oregonmetro.gov/high-capacity-transit-system-plan

        They’re updating the regional transit plan over the next couple years, supposed to be finished in 2018. Maybe it will perform better this time.

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      Chris I June 14, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      The next step is increased bus service. After that, we could talk about HOV lanes on I-84. You have to build ridership before we start looking at fixed guideway transit. If we did, it would make more sense to run commuter rail on the existing rails.

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        Dan A June 15, 2016 at 10:14 am

        You have to have more people on buses before adding a MAX line? I don’t get the connection. Lots of people take MAX who would never take a bus.

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      Mossby Pomegranate June 14, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      No. Keep Portland creep out of the gorge.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. June 14, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    It’s good to see ODOT realize there is demand for non-car transportation. An extension to Hood River and maybe even The Dalles would be amazing. I would absolutely take advantage of that.

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      Adam June 14, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      Or hell, even just Cascade Locks!

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        Cory P June 15, 2016 at 3:19 pm

        That would be great! I wouldn’t want to skate much further then that in one day anyways.

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      matt June 15, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      Make a loop on 84, 35, and 26:
      Gateway
      Multnomah Falls
      Cascade Locks
      Hood River
      Fruit Loop
      Mt. Hood Parks
      Timberline Lodge
      Sandy
      and back

      …then run it in both clockwise and counterclockwise all weekend long for as much of the year as weather allows.

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    Brian June 14, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I would love to see them add a trailer and a drop-off at a trailhead for off-road cycling, similar to the Mt Hood Express. Lot of potential here.

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    Lance Poehler June 14, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    oh man, hood river! that would be amazing! You could start a bike tour from hood river and avoid the freeway portion of the historic gorge. We took the bus just last week and have an amazing time.

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    paul g June 14, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    This way, I can ride to Multnomah Falls and not have to ride back up the hill. YES!

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    Kittens June 14, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    I have ridden the CGE a few times already. They need a bigger shuttle, every time I rode it there were a few people that had to wait for the next one. It needs to run later in the day and probably continue though out the year and maybe even go a bit further out.

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      Adam June 15, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      wow! i hope having to wait won’t put people off. but it’s great to hear that the service is effectively a “victim of its own success”.

      hopefully, this bodes well for increased service frequency/capacity!

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    adventure! June 14, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    I used the Columbia Gorge Express last weekend. It was GREAT! It meant only a four mile ride to Ainsworth State Park from Multnomah Falls for camping. I caught an AM bus so it wasn’t that busy from Gateway to Rooster Rock, but filled up there for the last leg to Multnomah Falls.

    Like the other people here, I wish there was more in just every way: frequency, stops, days of week, distance, etc. One thing in the interim that I found annoying was, while you cannot “reserve a spot” for any particular bus, when you purchase the bus ticket online, you MUST buy it for a specific day. I wish that you could just “buy a ticket” and use it when you felt like it, like the TriMet tickets app lets you do. Otherwise, I feel its a bit silly to be forced to buy a ticket for a specific day even if you aren’t assured you be able to get on the bus.

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    9watts June 15, 2016 at 7:27 am

    “The buses, subsidized in part by the Oregon Department of Transportation…”

    Is subsidized really the right word here? ODOT’s money is our money, right?
    Can it be a subsidy when it is, basically, a very modest gesture toward counteracting generations of auto-only subsidies?

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      MeS June 15, 2016 at 9:39 am

      It just means the people riding don’t cover the full cost. It’s the right word. If you keeping boiling it down, money doesn’t really exist except as a figment of our imaginations. Dude.

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        9watts June 15, 2016 at 3:28 pm

        “It just means the people riding don’t cover the full cost”

        Not quite.
        Since we don’treflexively use that term to describe the economics surrounding automobile usage I think it is misleading and problematic to use the term for (all) the other modes, where the subsidy – so called – is so paltry.

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      Dan A June 15, 2016 at 10:16 am

      Can you subsidize gasoline at ~$8 a gallon and then tax it 30 cents? Is it really a tax then?

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        9watts June 15, 2016 at 12:21 pm

        This is one of those puzzles that is good for thinking.

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  • Jim Labbe
    Jim Labbe June 15, 2016 at 7:48 am

    I did not know about this. Thanks for covering it.

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    Adam June 15, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    HOLY COW! I somehow missed the last photo in this article. That line of people waiting for the bus is INSANE!

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