Politics

Who’s on the bus?

A seat on the C-Tran board comes with plenty of responsibilities. Members have final say over a $96 million two-year budget. They set fares affecting thousands of riders. They chart the transit agency’s future plans.

But how many C-Tran board members actually use the service that their decisions shape? In other words, does anyone actually get on a bus once in a while?

During a June meeting, Vancouver City Councilor and C-Tran board member Bart Hansen prefaced one of his comments by saying he’s “the only one that rides the bus in here.”

We decided to conduct an informal survey to find out if that’s true. Here are the responses we received, mostly by email:

(This does not include Roy Jennings, the board’s non-voting labor representative. We already know he drives the bus as a C-Tran employee.)

  •  Hansen said he used C-Tran daily to commute to work between 2009 and 2011. He still rides the bus for recreational use, and recently has taken the bus to C-Tran board meetings at the Vancouver Community Library.
  • Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said he uses C-Tran “occasionally,” and typically for special events. As of Aug. 1, Leavitt’s last ride on a C-Tran bus took him to the July 19 John Mayer concert at the Sleep Country Amphitheater. “My decisions on policy matters at the C-Tran board are influenced by numerous avenues of input and experience,” he said.
  • Vancouver City Councilor Larry Smith said he’s “not a regular user” of C-Tran. Smith also uses the service for special events, and last rode a C-Tran bus four months ago. He also uses the MAX light rail system when in Portland for activities and events. Smith called himself a “big supporter of public transportation.”
  • Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart estimated that he uses C-Tran one to three times per month, plus another one to three times per month on the MAX in Portland. As of Aug. 8, Stuart said it had been two weeks since his last C-Tran ride. Stuart also relied on C-Tran for local travel before he became a county commissioner, he said.
  • County Commissioner David Madore said he doesn’t use C-Tran, and typically drives everywhere in the interest of saving time. Madore said he plans to spend a day riding C-Tran, including the No. 4 line along Fourth Plain, which is C-Tran’s busiest route. The No. 4 route, by the way, has been the subject of much discussion at the board level as C-Tran pursues a proposed bus rapid transit system to replace part of it.
  • County Commissioner Tom Mielke said he’s not a regular C-Tran rider. He last took the bus to the Clark County Fair in 2012, just over a year ago. Mielke said it’s important to recognize that transit is part of a larger transportation system, which should balance the needs of motorists and buses that share the region’s highways and roads.
  • Battle Ground City Councilor Bill Ganley said he “seldom” uses C-Tran. He last used the system in the spring, when he dropped a vehicle off and took the bus to get home. Ganley said he has gone out “just to ride the system” at times, and has a stepson who is a regular C-Tran user.
  • La Center Mayor Jim Irish said he used C-Tran to get to work five days per week until he retired in February. He still rides the bus for personal or business use at times. Irish said he considers the feedback of other passengers when making decisions that affect the agency.
  • Washougal City Councilor Connie Jo Freeman indicated at this month’s board meeting that she’s not a C-Tran rider. Freeman said she hasn’t used the system since joining the board in February 2012. She also expressed interest in riding the bus more frequently.

So it turns out Hansen isn’t the only one who knows his way around a fare box. Ridership habits on the C-Tran board seem to be pretty much all over the map. Still, more than half of the people charged with leading C-Tran admit they ride the bus either not much or not at all.

What’s that? Me? I ride C-Tran about once per week, usually to or from work. But I don’t get a free pass like board members do.

Eric Florip

Eric Florip

I'm the environment/transportation reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. Contact me at eric.florip@columbian.com or 360-735-4541.