CAT expands in-town and intercity transportation options in Hood River

A CAT Bus stops at 6th and Cascade in downtown Hood River

Observant community members can’t help but notice an increase in public transportation options available in Hood River. The local transportation district, informally known as CAT (or Columbia Area Transit), has been building programs for expanded in-town, intercity and commuter service on its own and in partnership with other agencies.

CAT’s Executive Director Patty Fink has been leading the effort based on the agency’s most recent Transportation Master Plan update, which set the stage initially for expanding its traditional fixed-route service. With more than 20 years’ experience in transit and transportation demand management, Fink wasted no time in reorienting the three-days per week fixed-route service (that relied heavily on dial-a-ride) step-by-step to a more robust daily service. Increased regular trips to Cascade Locks, The Dalles and Hood River County’s Upper Valley soon followed, and most recently, commuter transportation to / from Portland.

Local and Regional Service

State Transportation Improvement Funds helped CAT expand fixed-route service in Hood River Monday through Friday. Fink worked with the City of Hood River on a new concept that also launched this past summer – continuing fixed-route service on Saturdays and Sundays with the high-profile pink trolley. The City funded the 18-week demo along with Pacific Source Community Solutions, allowing the trolley to operate free of charge. (Donations were dedicated to the Hood River Warming Shelter.) CAT partnered with Grayline for the service, including equipment and drivers. Fink hopes the pink trolley (or a similar weekend service) will return next summer. “It had some of the highest ridership I’ve ever seen of similar services in a small town,” Fink declared. Ridership totaled 4,537 for the 18-weeks, or an average of 252 riders each weekend.

Hood River’s fixed-route has 12 stops, though riders can wave a driver down anywhere along the route provided they wait in a safe spot on the same side of the street as the bus.

Tickets may be purchased on mobile devices by downloading and using the Hopthru app.

Fink says increasing ridership is key to a future ability to offer extended hours for service, which currently runs from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. “We not only want the fixed-route service to be a resource for the community, we want the community to be a resource for the CAT bus,” Fink relays. She says ridership increases are necessary to keep the program sustainable. “We hope people will consider using it for shopping trips, medical appointments, or to spare downtown parking hassles or costs,” suggests Fink. “If we don’t see an increase in ridership, cuts in service could result.” Monthly and annual rider passes are available, and tickets may be purchased on mobile devices by downloading and using the “Hopthru” app. Low-income individuals can ride at reduced rates.

Upper Valley service goes to Odell eight times per weekday, and Parkdale three times per weekday, connecting at Rosauers with Hood River’s fixed-route service. Service goes to / from Cascade Locks five times per day (with connections to Portland) and to/from The Dalles about eight times per day — all Monday - Friday.

Fink is hopeful that another grant from the State Transportation Improvement Program will aid in the agency’s next push – enhancing marketing of its services offered by 10 vehicles plus a motor coach bus.

New CAT weekday commuter service to/from Portland

Portland Commuter Service

This past September, CAT added a new benefit to the community: weekday commuter service to Portland. “This request was expressed by local employers as a community need separate from Columbia Gorge Express (tourism bus),” Fink explained. “We’ve tried to align our schedules to prevent duplicating service." Fink says large employers have since partnered with CAT by providing passes to their employees, thereby keeping the service open to the public. CAT’s commuter bus leaves earlier in the morning for Hood River – Portland – Hood River, and leaves later for the Hood River – Portland – Hood River trips.

Oregon Dept. of Transportation (ODOT) launched the Columbia Gorge Express bus last May as a more efficient way to bring tourism to the Gorge. Its Fall schedule began September 24 with daily morning and afternoon departures from Portland’s Gateway Transit Center with stops at Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks, and Hood River, followed by a return trip with stops back to Portland. “We want the user experience for both Columbia Gorge Express and CAT to be seamless,” Fink relays. A significant benefit of CG Express is weekend service operations.

The commuter bus not only brings Hood River residents to their jobs in Portland, it returns by bringing Portland residents to jobs in the Hood River area. “It’s more sustainable if we can do both,” she adds. On a recent mid-October Monday morning, CAT’s commuter bus brought four passengers from Hood River to Portland and returned with 10 passengers to Hood River. Ten returned to Portland from Hood River in the evening, and four returned Portland to Hood River. The service proceeds to The Dalles after a short break in Hood River.

CAT is member of Gorge TransLink, which coordinates services with other providers to minimize wait times. Organizations are crafting a fare system that will work throughout the Gorge. "The expanding regional transportation system in the Columbia Gorge can transform ways Hood River residents get to work, school, and play,” states Kathy Fitzpatrick of Gorge TransLink. “Transit access to destinations like The Dalles, White Salmon, and Portland has become frequent and convenient, and now you can purchase a bus ticket or month pass right from your phone.” Gorge Translink offers information on how the CAT service connects with other services. An alliance of rural public transportation providers in Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, Klickitat and Skamania counties, Gorge TransLink offers information at gorgetranslink.com.

For more adventuresome travelers, Hood River Pedi-Cab is outfitting vehicles with custom enclosures fabricated to protect riders from inclement weather. The service also offers heated seat warmers and blankets to keep riders cozy. There are currently more public transportation options in Hood River than ever in the past.

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