In July 2017, Oregon reached an exciting milestone when the state legislature passed Oregon House Bill 2017, also known as Keep Oregon Moving — the most comprehensive transportation bill Oregon has ever passed. Keep Oregon Moving includes dedicated funding for maintaining roads and bridges, creating safer biking and walking infrastructure and strengthening and improving public transportation around the entire state.
Details on this new funding are still being finalized, but we do know that substantial improvements in public transportation will be coming to Central Oregon. The public transportation portion of the bill will be funded through an employee payroll tax at one-tenth of one percent tax on wages. It equates to less than $1 a week for the average worker, or about $50 a year. This funding will generate $115 million a year in Oregon for better public transportation. Of the $115 million to fund transit, ninety percent will go towards programs and systems, four percent will go to intercity services and one percent will go to a technical resource center to help very small rural communities.
The funding is county-based, so it is truly a local tax. That means the payroll tax that is collected here in Deschutes County, will stay in Deschutes County and will go towards bus system improvements in Deschutes County. The funding is also only to be used for new or expanded services such as additional routes, times, buses, bus stops, facilities and more.
Public transportation is beneficial to Central Oregon. It provides equal personal mobility and freedom for all people of all ages, abilities and economic backgrounds. A robust public transportation system supports the local economy, helping people access goods and services in an efficient manner. Public buses also reduce congestion on our roads and improve air quality.
In particular, the business and economic development community should recognize that public transportation helps build a stronger workforce because it helps employees reliably get to and from work. For every day that an employee misses work because they do not have adequate transportation, you lose revenue and your employee loses income. A strong public bus system helps your business, your employees and your community.
Now is the time to get involved in shaping public transportation in Central Oregon. If you are a business owner, start thinking about how public transportation can help you and your employees. Perhaps you want more customers to come to your business. Would a nearby bus route help? Or maybe you know you could better retain employees if they had a more reliable means of getting to and from work. How would a better bus system help?
This is an exciting time in Oregon and planning has begun on how our region can best grow our bus services. Commute Options is here to help you get involved. Start by contacting our local public transportation agency Cascades East Transit, or contact Kim Curley at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how.
Commute Options promotes choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. For more information, contact Executive Director Jeff Monson at 541-330-2647 or visit www.commuteoptions.org
Katy Bryce is a freelance writer in Bend. www.katybryce.com