Tribal Government & News
Grand Ronde transit gap a ‘top priority’
By Sherron Lumley
Smoke Signals staff writer
Salem Cherriots and the Tillamook County Transportation District may end up joining forces to provide bus service to the Grand Ronde community after a crucial route was discontinued last month.
According to Tribal Public Works Coordinator John Mercier, the number of routes is yet to be determined.
Grand Ronde’s current gap in bus service is not due to lack of funds. Like many businesses, especially in rural areas, local transit agencies are struggling to cover routes. This has led transit managers to consider collaborative solutions.
“We can start immediately,” Mercier said. “It could be any day.”
He is ready to negotiate a contract, which he anticipates will include Cherriots’ drivers and Tillamook’s buses. Mercier said that Tillamook is “bus-rich” and Cherriots is “driver-rich.” Working together, increased bus service from Grand Ronde to Salem could be restored in the near future.
Another potential solution is if the Siletz Tribe partners with Grand Ronde to offer two routes, seven days per week. The 60X (Coastal Connector) is a bus route from Lincoln City to the Salem Amtrak station via Grand Ronde and the 70X runs from Grand Ronde to Salem.
Without the Siletz on board, Mercier said he will still be able to have the 70X bus, which would provide Grand Ronde with daily, round-trip service to Salem.
“The Tribe works with professional transportation planners to review and find a good match for the riders,” Mercier said. “It is a priority to get those routes in place.”
The Yamhill County bus from Grand Ronde to McMinnville will continue its route Monday through Friday, with eight round-trip journeys per day.
Tillamook ended its daily service from Lincoln City to Grand Ronde to Salem abruptly in December due to a shortage of drivers. The final bus of 2023 ran on Dec. 10 and Tillamook’s General Manager Brian Vitulli announced all service to Grand Ronde ended effective Dec. 11.
Mercier said all the transit companies serving Grand Ronde are months behind in sending invoices to the Tribe, which is ready to pay on receipt, adding that he hasn’t been billed in six months and can’t close the Tillamook contract until a final invoice is received.
The Tribe’s federal and state transportation funding is used to pay for the public transit service that serves Grand Ronde.
State funding includes a two-year grant of $97,396 from the Oregon Department of Transportation and an ODOT-administered $300,000 Federal Transit Administration grant for rural areas.
A Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund grant of $470,038 will go toward resolving the Tribe’s current public transit service gap, paying subcontracters with transit agencies.
In addition to state funding, three-year federal allocations include $565,000, money from the Federal Transit Administration and some funds from pandemic relief efforts for the years 2024-27.