I’ve often thought of the Oregon Department of Transportation as our state’s de facto driving advocacy group. Given where the vast majority of their funding goes and their reluctance to do anything that reduces driving access, it’s a reasonable way to think about the agency.
So imagine my surprise when I saw an email from ODOT this morning where they went out of their way to promote taking the train over driving by slashing fares on the Amtrak Cascades line by as much as 30%. Starting next week you can buy a train ticket between Portland and Eugene (110 miles south) for just $17 — that’s cheaper than taking the bus! The new fares apply to all Oregon stops including Oregon City, Salem, and Albany.
In a statement about the news, ODOT Public Transportation Division Administrator Karyn Criswell said:
“We looked at the high cost of driving on I-5 in the Willamette Valley and realized we could offer something better. The rates are more affordable, the ride is extremely comfortable and it’s much more relaxing than fighting traffic.”
“It’s a great time to leave the car at home and travel stress-free!” the announcement reads.
The push for more Amtrak ridership comes after a summer where many Oregonians were impacted by very high gas prices and local policymakers are hearing about a renewed push for high speed rail.
While this price cut is sweet, it may not be enough of an incentive to ditch the car for folks concerned about travel times. The 110-mile trip takes about two hours by car, and the fastest train trips take about three hours – and that’s without any delays.
ODOT, who oversees the Cascades line and contracts Amtrak to run trains on it, is still trying to recover after two-plus years of reduced ridership due to the covid pandemic and other issues.
Amtrak Cascades ridership did a nose-dive in 2020 when the virus first took hold; but it has made a healthy rebound this year. Ridership for the third quarter of 2022 is only 11% below 2019 levels.