Friday, December 22, 2006


Bend's Buses A Bust

Bend, as many Oregonians don’t know and probably don’t care, recently got a fixed-route bus system up and running. The city had stonewalled the Feds for years; it even converted it’s disabled bus service—dial-a-ride—into a system usable by the general public. For eons, Bend was the largest city in the state without a regular bus system. It seems to have liked it that way. After all, who, except the poor folks, would ride a public system?

Actually, it’s turned out that a lot of people, not all of them poor by a long shot, like riding the buses. Bicycle commuting is fun and hip and all that, except in the slushy winter. The fixed route system is doing just fine, thank you.

Well...except for a couple of problems: the buses were bought from a California (ah-hah!) used-bus lot. They been sold off by Utah Transit, for between $1,300 and $1,800 apiece, because they were utterly unreliable. Bend bought them for $35,200 each. Since they’ve been in service here, the city has spent over $70,000 trying to keep them running. The city Purchasing Agent didn’t do much homework on that purchase. The Purchasing Agent signed the checks to Honest Bob’s Used Buses—or whatever the company calls itself. “These work good?” “Oh, yeah, sure, great buses. We’re losing money on this deal, tell you the truth.” “Honest?” “Yup.” “OK, then. Here’s your money.”

I don’t think I’ve ever bought a car that way. Not even in my craziest moments. Maybe because I was spending my own money—or because I can’t imagine buying anything on wheels without a little investigation in advance.

That was pretty bad, but things get worse. The dial-a-ride system has been disliked by the powers-that-be for a long time. They thought it should be self-supporting, if there even has to be such a service. Now that there’re fixed-route buses (by no means blanketing the city or anything close to that), Bend has tightened up on the requirements for people who are disabled and need the service. A five page form is required, signed off by a doctor. A woman who’s used the service for years—she has no legs and only one arm—was dropped from the service because she “didn’t get the paperwork” in on time. Why anyone like that would even need to show paperwork boggles the mind—unless it’s a bureaucratic mind, I guess. seems a bit vindictive, when you get right down to it.

And, capping things off, it turns out that a number of bus stops are not at all accessible to the disabled. There are reports of people in wheelchairs having to be manually lifted off the bus and carried to the actual stop itself, because the buses don’t get that close. So, now, Bend has a lawsuit to deal with, filed by a disability advocacy organization. They deserve it.

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