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‘Gorge Express’ bus service returns with major upgrades

Posted by on May 26th, 2017 at 9:35 am

The new and improved buses. You can stow your bike down below and get a $5 ride to the Gorge!

In yet another example of the wondrous potential of bus transit, the State of Oregon is starting up their Columbia Gorge Express service starting today.

The service was launched last year by the Oregon Department of Transportation as a response to congestion and parking problems in the Gorge. Because so many people drove their personal cars to the waterfalls and hiking trails, illegal parking was rampant as the few lots that exist often reached capacity. The Historic Columbia River Highway that connects all the destinations would routinely become packed with people and their cars, making it unsafe and unpleasant for all users.

Almost as soon as the service was offered it proved extremely popular. For $5 round-trip, the mid-sized buses picked people up at the Gateway Transit Center and dropped off at two popular spots in the Gorge. In the 18 weekends it was offered last summer, the service exceeded ODOT’s expectations with over 30,000 riders.

This year ODOT is doubling-down. Yesterday they announced larger buses with more amenitites and a host of other service improvements:

– Bigger buses to accommodate more riders and reduce wait times.
– A new stop location among the bus bays at the Gateway Transit Center, closer to bus and MAX stops.
– A new stop location at Rooster Rock State Park with more seating and shaded areas.
– A staff person at Rooster Rock State Park and Multnomah Falls during service hours to smooth operations, answer questions and inform riders when the next bus is due.
– Buses will now accept cash and credit cards, though riders are encouraged to buy tickets online to avoid boarding delays.

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We’ve also heard from an ODOT source that the larger buses can accomodate bicycles in the luggage area. Moving blankets will be provided so you can wrap up your bike before stowing it away. Up to three bicycles will be allowed per bus. Last year the buses had a rack that could hold three bikes. It’s likely the luggage area can hold more than three bikes, so — while we wouldn’t count on it — hopefully bus operators will be flexible with the three bike rule. Even if your bike doesn’t fit, there are 12 departures per day. First bus leaves Gateway at 8:45 am and the final bus back to Portland leaves Multnomah Falls at 6:40 pm.

The service begins today and will run through September 24th (including federal holidays).

ODOT says they’re still evaluating the service and it could expand even further next year. In yesterday’s announcement they said the Gorge Express Bus, “could become daily and extend to Hood River with stops at additional Gorge destinations accessible from I-84.”

Check out ColumbiaGorgeExpress.com for more info and start planning your ride today!

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

58 Comments
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    dan May 26, 2017 at 9:49 am

    This is great! Would be nice if it was possible to reserve space for a bike.

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      mw May 26, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      Yeah, crazy how they say they can only bring three. Those luggage compartments are hugs.

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    rick May 26, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Thanks ODOT !

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    Chris I May 26, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Fantastic. As this service grows, the state should continue to remove parking and provide more dedicated space for transit vehicles in parking lots and trail heads. We may eventually need to ban cars on portions of the old highway during summer weekends. This is what they do in several national parks due to overcrowding.

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      Mossby Pomegranate May 29, 2017 at 7:14 pm

      Let’s take it a step further and ban people from the gorge, period. We are ruining it.

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        Dan A May 30, 2017 at 10:22 am

        Seriously? Or is this a sarcastic response to the suggestion of removing cars from the old highway?

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    mh May 26, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Taking this bus to Hood River has been my fantasy since they started the line last year.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 26, 2017 at 10:41 am

      me too mh..

      actually my true fantasy is to restore train service in the Gorge! Can you imagine hopping a train from Portland to The Dalles!?

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        dan May 26, 2017 at 11:32 am

        The Empire Builder runs from Portland to Bingen! The schedules aren’t frequent enough and there’s no baggage service in Bingen, and you can’t bike across the Hood River bridge, but…at a minimum, you can get out there by rail.

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          adventure! May 26, 2017 at 5:51 pm

          Theoretically, the Empire Builder is supposed to have the new-fangled “roll on” bike service, since the baggage cars have bike hooks. “Theoretically” because it still doesn’t look like they have made the service “live” yet. (It is available on the Coast Starlight.) While there is no baggage service in Bingen-White Salmon or Wishram (the other Gorge stop on the Builder), a conductor could get into the baggage car to load/unload a bike here. I hope to see this happen soon!

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            GlowBoy May 26, 2017 at 8:33 pm

            I thought Amtrak wasn’t allowing bikes on and off at non-baggage stops, even with the new roll-on service.

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              adventure! May 26, 2017 at 9:11 pm

              I hear conflicting reports. Anyways, since we’re talking about “fantasies”, I figured I should throw mine in as well! 😉

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        Chris I May 26, 2017 at 12:36 pm

        That would be great. If only there were a way to utilize the WES equipment on the weekends. Trains could leave Union Station and make stops in Troutdale (downtown or Lewis and Clark Park), Rooster Rock (a siding and connector trail would be needed), Multnomah Falls (siding needed), possibly Bonneville (siding needed), Cascade Locks, Starvation Creek (siding needed), and Hood River, connecting with the Mt. Hood Railroad depot. WES already is set up for bikes, and the equipment is only used mid-week. This would provide capacity for 100+ passengers per run. Using 2 trains, you could provide departures in both directions every 2 hours, all day.

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          BradWagon May 26, 2017 at 3:22 pm

          Not familiar at all with rail but I imagine getting WES cars into downtown Portland for just the weekend wouldn’t be very feasible from a logistics standpoint…

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            Chris I May 26, 2017 at 3:34 pm

            They would have to route them north from Wilsonville, and then east in Tualatin through LO and across the river to meet up with the UP mainline into downtown and Union Station. It would be a solid 30 min non-revenue trip each way every weekend. The bigger issue is the politics and cost of using the tracks.

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          Kittens May 27, 2017 at 8:04 am

          Unfortunately, that would be an administrative nightmare.

          WES is funded by TriMet and paid by voters in the tri county region. The main line between Portland and the gorge is extremely busy and would cost a fortune to expand. I’m not even sure legally they could use that equipment for other purposes.

          Not saying it shouldn’t happen but not currently feasible. It would take a major plan and commitment by ODOT to move beyond SOVs, not something they are known for.

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          bigmac1827 June 16, 2017 at 10:52 pm

          As often as UP runs trains through here, every 2 hours is a pipe dream.

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        bikeninja May 26, 2017 at 3:09 pm

        I agree Jonathan. I am old enough to remember taking the Amtrak Pioneer from Ogden Utah to Portland on my way home from college just one day after Mt St Helens erupted. The ride through the blue mountains was one of the most scenic train journeys in the World. Imagine taking the train from Portland to Baker City to go gravel riding on the miles of unpaved roads in the powder river valley.

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      Kyle Banerjee May 26, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      mh
      Taking this bus to Hood River has been my fantasy since they started the line last year.

      Y’all have weird fantasies.

      Though I think yours have a better chance of being fulfilled than mine.

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        mh May 31, 2017 at 10:29 am

        I try to keep mine limited and achievable, rather than truly fantastical. Small-minded, I know.

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      Pete May 26, 2017 at 7:15 pm

      I’ve been trying to find a way to avoid driving to Hood River for decades now. While I’ve seen it grow and it feels more crowded now, I certainly welcome more people without adding more cars. In a recent kiteboarding forum thread about “rigs”, it was nice to see so many folks show off their modified bikes and Burleys.

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    bikeninja May 26, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Awesome, Bus service to many of Oregon’s great outdoor recreation areas is key to removing the last piece of the puzzle that keeps many people from going car-free. Kind of ironic that in the long run the only way to save the natural places that make Oregon great is to not drive there in private automobiles.

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      Kyle Banerjee May 26, 2017 at 10:41 am

      The best way to save them is not develop them. If you send crowds of people to any natural place, the impact is huge.

      Having said that, I think running buses to the popular areas is a great idea. It reduces traffic, it’s more convenient for people, and it confines damage to a smaller number of famous places.

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        Cory P May 26, 2017 at 1:03 pm

        The inverse is also true that you can’t expect the public to want to protect what they cant experience in a meaningful way.
        These sites all have a great built in filter called a 400 ft steep climb. I’m always struck with how quickly the crowds thin out as I hike the first 1/4 mile up hill.

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          Kyle Banerjee May 26, 2017 at 1:25 pm

          I favor what they’re doing for this exact reason — people need to feel a connection with something to care about it.

          I usually discourage people from going in this area at all except early in the morning during winter. There are lots of places as good or better where you can go and not see anyone. Having said that, it’s possible to go to super popular places like Oneonta Gorge and Tamanawa Falls and not see a single person — all you need to do is go early, preferably when it’s cold and wet.

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            rachel b May 26, 2017 at 5:39 pm

            I agree with what Kyle first said. People aren’t protecting the gorge, now: they’re using it, consuming it. Ravenously. Geotagging it. Instagramming it. Trashing it.

            The gorge was protected by legislation and a lot of loving caretaking by generations of Oregonians. Trails and scenic areas were pristine, until recently.

            People with little regard for natural places and a whole lot of regard for “likes” are now are overrunning state and national parks and making a mess of them–littering, damaging trails and landmarks, behaving as people do. Well, as people and visitors here do now, at any rate.

            I’m delighted about the buses, but I’ll be running in the opposite direction of all these people people people. Problem is, I’m running out of places to run to.

            https://theringer.com/instagram-geotagging-ruining-parks-f65b529d5e28

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              Pete May 26, 2017 at 7:21 pm

              Sounds like the same argument I heard back in 1990 when the Gorge Scenic Act was created. 😉

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              Mark smith May 26, 2017 at 8:46 pm

              Clearly Multnomah falls was a local secret prior to facebook/instagram.

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              Dan A May 30, 2017 at 10:28 am

              Have you ever traveled outside of Oregon and been a tourist yourself?

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                rachel b May 31, 2017 at 1:35 am

                Not much, Dan. Not a fan of tourism as it’s become more and more ubiquitous and destructive to communities and natural areas. Esp. hard to see that happening here. Traveled a lot in the state (camping) growing up and have toured a lot as a musician, mainly west coast–not any time for sightseeing or “must-sees” visiting.

                My husband and I used to travel in the off season in-state, but even the off season is the on season in Oregon, anymore.

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                rachel b May 31, 2017 at 1:43 am

                I have to ask you, Dan A–how do you feel about the damage and littering occurring at sites like Oneonta, Cape Kiwanda, Smith Rock, Santiam River? I never had a problem with people enjoying our natural spaces until they started overcrowding them and harming them. I think that’s a fairly natural, healthy reaction to bad human behavior, to destructiveness and a lack of care. Isn’t it? John Muir would agree, at any rate… 😉

                Times change (as several people here are so fond of reminding us all, often), and this is one of those changes that’s not so great and that I don’t think any of us should be getting with. We need to be good stewards of what we have. Bringing more and more people to places that are currently suffering from the effects of overcrowding strikes me as counterintuitive, though certainly crowd pleasing.

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                Dan A May 31, 2017 at 11:15 am

                If you’re anti-tourism and you don’t go anywhere yourself, kudos for sticking to your guns. Most people like to see a bit more of the world, and I don’t blame them.

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                rachel b May 31, 2017 at 2:23 pm

                I get that. But–as with everything with humanity–it’s fine when only a few people are doing it. It’s when everyone starts doing it that there are problems. I’m worried about the impacts now and that outweighs any interest I may have in people entertaining themselves. Not against entertainment of self, mind you! A fine and delightful pursuit. There are just less destructive ways to do it, given the prevailing circumstances.

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                Kyle Banerjee May 31, 2017 at 4:09 pm

                The problem isn’t tourism per se. It’s that people aren’t mindful about it.

                I go all kinds of places. But I won’t go anywhere I think my presence might be too disruptive and consult with rangers and managers in the area before every trip. And I really try to leave no trace and try our best not to disturb wildlife in any way — we change or cancel our plans if the route goes near any kind of young.

                The ethos of backcountry travelers is very different than most people who are unaware of or do not worry about their impact and do a wide variety of things that mess things up really fast. My guess is less than 0.1% of Multnomah Falls visitors even know what blue bagging is, let alone are willing to do it (not that it is necessary in that particular venue).

                I strongly favor using permits to manage impact, limiting development, and strong enforcement. Fortunately, the fitness, knowledge, and equipment required to reach many places puts it out of reach of all but the most dedicated — it’s totally normal in many areas to go more than 24 hours without seeing anyone else.

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                rachel b May 31, 2017 at 11:38 pm

                Agree about permits, Kyle. And, mostly, about a lot of wild spaces remaining relatively inviolate due to the arduousness of getting there. But Oneonta used to be quiet because you have to hike through water to get there. Now people are so eager to geotag, instagram and FB everything, even novices are pushing themselves beyond their capabilities (and comfort levels) and Oneonta’s and the like are overrun.

                And I do think tourism’s a problem. If you have too many people crowding a site and they are mindful, it’s better, sure; but too many people is too many people, and too many people have a deleterious affect on the environment, just by being too many people.

                Some of the greenest people I know (in most respects) have big blind spots where the issue of travel (esp. air travel) is concerned. Weird that it’s now considered less of a privilege and more of a right. Planes are seen as glorified buses, which is a big problem. We all want what we want, right now.

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                Kyle Banerjee June 1, 2017 at 4:11 pm

                Agreed that too many people is a big deal and the inference that what constitutes “too many” can be quite low.

                Despite my comments, I think tourism is an issue and personally think of a jet plane as a flying blowtorch. And I think the impact of roads, GPS, and social media motivation on nature has not been good. The internet is a mixed blessing in that it is a gold mine of information but it also brings too much traffic to some areas.

                My hopes lie in the laziness of people and their desire for comfort.

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                rachel b June 2, 2017 at 8:26 pm

                Comfort vs. vanity (“likes” seeking). Hmmm. It’s close. But I say vanity wins, in the end. 😉

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    gl. May 26, 2017 at 10:26 am

    Such great news! How wonderful to hear about expanding access and amenities instead of limiting them.

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    KristenT May 26, 2017 at 10:26 am

    That’s awesome!

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    Kittens May 26, 2017 at 10:43 am

    I remember last year, the Gorge Express couldn’t even get to it’s stop at Multnomah falls because it was so crowded.

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      Chris I May 26, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      We are getting to the point where the Columbia River Highway between Bridal Veil and Dodson may need to become a limited access road on summer weekends. The gates would turn cars back during peak hours, allowing transit vehicles, tour busses, and cyclists/pedestrians only. There will be huge pushback at first, but people will figure it out eventually.

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        Middle of the Road Guy May 26, 2017 at 3:04 pm

        Agreed. It is dang near impossible to bike to Multnomah Falls on a weekend.

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    Allan Rudwick May 26, 2017 at 11:42 am

    They need to have a way to let the bus past the “closed gates” on the freeway. When I took it last year we literally went past the stop, turned around, and then entered mult. falls from the opposite side. I’m not sure what they would have done if the other side was closed. ODOT!!! Figure this out

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    Carrie May 26, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Has anyone taken the bus one way? IOW, rode their bike out to Multnomah Falls and then taken the bus back to Portland? I’m thinking that could be a great option for those who want to ride out there but would love a sag wagon on the way back…

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      adventure! May 26, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      I’ve done the one way from Gateway to Multnomah Falls. You still have to buy the round-trip ticket, they don’t have it set up for one-way rides. I don’t think it’d be a problem to do it in reverse, but I’d maybe contact them first to make sure it’s okay.

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      X June 19, 2017 at 5:55 pm

      As I remember, last year they didn’t check tickets on the return. In effect, it’s free. But maybe they are doing it differently now.

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    adventure! May 26, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    Now is a good time to mention that the Washington (SR 14) side of the Gorge has year-round weekday bus service via Gorge West End Transit (WET). Two round trips a day Monday through Friday from Fishers Landing TC in East Vancouver to Stevenson and Carson. (They have an additional run mid-day Friday.) Each bus has a bike rack. They do have weekend service during the warmer months. Right now they have two weekend round-trips, which will increase mid-June.
    http://www.gorgetranslink.com/regional-carson-stevenson-vancouver.html

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    GlowBoy May 26, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    I’d really like to see the Gorge Express run to Cascade Locks and Hood River too; I know about WET but I’m more interested in the Oregon side of the river, and not enthused about walking or biking Bridge of the Gods, legal as it may be.

    As a person who frequently visits Portland and tries to avoid rental cars, I would definitely use the GE if it went where I wanted. I did use the Mt. Hood Express last year and thought it was great.

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      adventure! May 26, 2017 at 8:55 pm

      Oh, I’d like to see the Gorge Express go to Cascade Locks, Hood River, and beyond! And all year, every day!

      But while you know about the WET bus, not everyone does. And there are things to do on the Washington side of the Gorge, too. Or, if someone wanted to explore Gifford Pinchot National Forest, they can take the WET bus to Carson and–BAM!–they are right at the start of Wind River Road!

      And there IS a bus that hits up Hood River and The Dalles. The big issue is it only runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But it’s a start.
      http://community.gorge.net/hrctd/portland_fixed_route.htm

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    Kittens May 27, 2017 at 8:08 am

    This is great news.
    The gorge scenic area has never been more popular and we are unable or willing to expand auto capacity.

    I do have one question: how does this comply with ADA?

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    Justin M May 27, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Woohoo! Rooster Rock! Do I have to wear clothes on the bus?

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      Teddy May 28, 2017 at 9:43 am

      Haaaa, probably!

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      Mossby Pomegranate May 29, 2017 at 7:15 pm

      Uh, please do. Others have to sit in that seat.

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    drew May 30, 2017 at 8:56 am

    I took the 11am gorge bus from gateway yesterday (memorial day). The boarding spot is in the southeast corner; there is a gorge bus sign. There were only 6 of us on a huge bus. There are large cargo bays underneath where you can lay your bike on its side. The operator was okay with me taking my folding bike on board with me. Disembarked at rooster rock and rode up Larch Mt, almost car free (Palmer mill gravel road and trail to the snow gate, which is still closed). You can walk up to Sherrard point, just a few snow patches left.

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    Peter W May 30, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I suppose it doesn’t hurt that the bus is advertising itself and the gorge.

    TriMet should try treating buses like first class transportation options rather than cheap rolling billboards.

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      adventure! May 31, 2017 at 9:57 am

      ODOT is operating the Columbia Gorge Express bus, not Trimet.

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