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‘Gorge Express’ bus service returns with major upgrades

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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