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Business for PCC’s free shuttle service is booming
Photos and Story by James Hill
Portland Community College’s free shuttle service is so popular that ridership numbers are up 58 percent this spring term.
In fiscal year of 2009, PCC had more than 178,000 riders and the college transportation people say they’ll beat that number again this year. So far, there has been a 13 percent increase for fall term over the previous year, a 26 percent increase for winter term and through week 3 of spring term a 24 percent increase. The shuttle runs fall, winter and spring terms. It doesn’t operate in the summer.
The growth can be traced partly to PCC’s enrollment surge, where the college is up 17 percent on the credit side and 9 percent in overall headcount this spring term. With those historic increases – it’s the 11th straight term of growth – parking spaces have become few and far between at peak hours.
North Portland resident Torben Hennessey, 19, is one of the students that regularly use the PCC shuttle. He rides it about 10 times per week so that he can complete his general education courses as he hopes to earn a degree in printmaking. He said that without the PCC shuttle to get from North Portland all the way to the Rock Creek Campus near Beaverton, he might not be in school.
“I think the shuttle is totally worthwhile,” Hennessey said. “If PCC didn’t offer this service I might not be going to school right now. As a full time student I use the shuttle to attend my three classes. I also use it to get to work for my student government position and for PCC events. I would say that during these trips the service that is provided by PCC shuttles is quite efficient and pleasant. When I do ride during the late morning or early afternoon I almost always have to stand up or sit on the floor (because it’s so crowded).”
The shuttle meets this need by connecting staff, faculty and students to all major PCC campuses (Rock Creek, Sylvania and Cascade) and to Portland State University, Columbia County and to several spots on Hawthorne Boulevard. Thanks to a three-year comparison report created by PCC’s Parking and Transportation Office, the increases in the number of people riding the shuttles are documented:
- Fall Term (2007 to 2009) – Up 68 percent or 27,600 in total riders.
- Winter Term (2008 to 2010) – Up 57 percent or 26,200.
- Spring Term (2008 to 2010) – Up 58 percent or 8,372 through third week.
In addition, to help meet the demand for public transit, PCC has increased the number of TriMet premier subsidized passes to 1,200 a term for use by students, who might not be able to use the free shuttles.
The PCC shuttle was established in 1993 to help meet the growing need for alternative transportation at the college and to meet its mission of being more green. Today, with parking spaces at a premium, the shuttle service has grown dramatically with the Sylvania-to-Downtown route (orange line) being the most popular. The Parking and Transportation Office also is expanding the shuttle fleet and has converted all of the current buses to run on BioDiesel fuel.
“On the current Southeast shuttle, or yellow line, we are at capacity and unfortunately have had to turn people away,” said Michael Kuehn, PCC transportation coordinator. “We are hoping with a small change to our routes we can accommodate everyone. We are in the process of adding a new route, beginning fall 2010. This year we hired five additional relief drivers, which two of whom have taken over for two longtime employees that have since retired. We are looking to hire a few more drivers for the new route.”
The office is buying two more full-size buses to not only help with a new route, but to phase out the older vehicles in the fleet, Kuehn added. This will be very good news to shuttle riders, whether they are students or staff like Mandy Ellertson.
Ellertson, who is the student leadership coordinator at the Rock Creek Campus, uses the shuttle about once per week. If she can’t find a way to carpool to a meeting on another campus, she’ll use the shuttle service.
“I ride the shuttle because our family reduced the number of cars we support,” Ellertson said. “We all take turns finding alternative ways to get to work and school. As an employee of PCC, the shuttle bus allows me and my family another option in our quest to reduce our use of cars.”
And student Melodee Dudley, 23, said that the drivers really make the experience pleasant and go out of their way to serve the legion of riders.
“The drivers do all they can to miss traffic to get students back and forth on time,” Dudley said. “There was one time when I was running late and had to run for the shuttle, and the driver saw me coming and waited for me before they left. They’re the best.”