Weekend and later-evening bus service may resume soon, thanks to action taken by the Salem Keizer Transit Board. Student bus passes and some holiday service would also return.
“Daily bus service is the most critical transportation need in our community,” says Bob Krebs, who has served 6 years on the transit board and has over 45 years professional involvement with passenger transportation. “It supports equity and quality of life issues.”
The added service would serve as a boost to the local economy, the board believes. “The Salem area is competing with Portland and Eugene to attract businesses, but those cities both have more robust transportation systems. They attract businesses we don’t because they have public transportation to get both employees and customers to their businesses seven days a week,” says Marcia Kelley, who has 35 years of involvement in public transportation and 25 years of service on the board.
On May 28, the board voted to start a committee that would run a November ballot measure to have expanded service paid by a small payroll tax for area businesses.
Voters will weigh in on the November ballot, and decide if the expanded service should happen or not.
One rider who hopes for the change is Salem’s Robert Marquez. Marquez works weekdays and weekends at a McDonalds in Keizer. On both Saturday and Sunday, he now walks 1½ hours each way to Keizer for a 4-hour shift.
This means he spends 6 hours each weekend walking to get 8 hours of work. “If there was weekend service I would definitely use it to get to Keizer and back,” he says.
Dallas’ Richard Rodgers uses the bus several times a week to get around the valley. “I was just complaining to my bus driver about needing weekend service,” he says. He would use weekend busses to shop in Salem and visit family here. He would be able to spend more time in town on weekdays, too.
“Right now, if I don’t get to the bus, for whatever reason, by 6 p.m., I have to pay an astronomical amount to get back to Dallas; $55 one way.”
Both Marquez and Rogers are young men, and Kelley points out that younger Oregonians are generally more interested in transit than their elders. “We need to look to the future,” she says. “When polled, the ‘Millennials’ say they prefer a city where there is robust public service, so they don’t have to rely on cars. I’m concerned that we’re losing that generation, and that they’re not coming to Salem to take jobs.”
Krebs has heard that businesses looking for sites in Oregon “sometimes bypass Salem for other communities because our lack of daily public transit limits the workforce here.” He believes that 7-day-a week service supports a more significant and economically viable metropolitan area. “Smaller communities don’t have weekend service. Lack of weekend service has Salem ranked with cities of only 50,000, while our area has nearly 300,000 by potential new residents and business investors.”
The transit board estimates that evening and weekend service will boost ridership significantly and draw more federal funding.
Cherriots currently provides about 5 million rides a year. With the expanded service, Krebs says, “My estimate is 50% or more growth. This means about 700,000 more rides per quarter, or a total of 7 to 7.5 million rides per year.” The figures are a rough estimate from past experience, he says, and he predicts the increase will build up over time, rather than take an immediate jump when the new service starts.
The transit board expects local businesses to embrace the idea because it will expand both their customer base and their potential employees.
Cherriots system was developed to provide service to all areas in the Urban Growth Boundaries of Polk and Marion counties. Different transit districts have different funding sources, but for Cherriots, service has been primarily funded by county property taxes paid by individual people, along with State, Federal and other monies added in.
In contrast, the local funding for public transportation in both Portland and Eugene comes entirely from payroll taxes.
If the voters say “yes” to the idea in November, it won’t mean a significant expense for business, only .21% of payroll. “For companies with a $500,000 yearly payroll, that means an additional $1,050 in taxes,” Kelley says.
Moreover, the tax would be deductable on the business’s Federal tax form.
Currently the State of Oregon pays the payroll tax component for Cherriots service, (.6%) “And they still would,” Kelley adds. “We’re basically asking employers to pay only about 1/3 of the (rate being paid by the state) payroll portion for this important service.”
Krebs, who owned a business in Portland and whose firm always paid the Tri-Met public transit payroll tax in full itself, considers it “just a cost of doing business.”
“I know there are business owners who will support this,” he says. “When you look at how small it is, and that they can subtract it from their Federal form, businesses will see how advantageous it is.”
NOTE: Citizens with questions should contact Cherriots board members directly (cherriots.org/en/board,) and NOT Cherriots staff.