Free bus service in the John Day Valley will start in mid-January, with one route circulating through John Day and Canyon City and another running from Prairie City to Mt. Vernon.

The exact location of stops will be refined as the Grant County Transportation District looks at ridership numbers in the coming months, District Manager Angie Jones said. The new bus service will operate Mondays through Fridays, with other People Mover services continuing as before.

As currently planned, a People Mover bus will loop through John Day and Canyon City about every 45 minutes with 57 stops. The east-west bus will run three times a day linking Prairie City and Mt. Vernon with 37 stops. Bus stop signs could be set up by March depending on Oregon Department of Transportation approval, Jones said.

People with difficulty getting to scheduled stop locations can call 24 hours in advance, and the bus will come to their homes. People can flag down the bus at unscheduled locations, but Jones advised they call ahead to let the People Mover staff know.

While many businesses and public agencies have approved use of parking lots and highway pullouts for bus stops, people shouldn’t expect to be able to park their vehicles at a stop to ride the bus, Jones said.

Riders can board the buses fare-free. Funding will come from a provision in the 2017 Transportation Bill that passed the Senate by 22-7 and the House by 39-20.

The bill provided for a payroll tax of less than 0.1 percent to fund public transit. Grant County will receive $100,000 per year, the minimum amount available for counties, Jones said.

The public transportation provision specified criteria that transportation districts should consider when spending that funding. Jones said the new bus service will address both access and lower rates. The provision also required that 1 percent of the funding be used to provide transportation for students in grades 9-12.

The new bus service will provide stops at Prairie City School and Grant Union Junior-Senior High School, as well as Humbolt Elementary School, Jones said. Departure times should be early enough for students in John Day to travel to the Prairie City School or the reverse, she said.

The Canyon City-John Day route extends from Bridge Street on Highway 395 south of the courthouse, west on Highway 26 to Apple Road and north several blocks on North Canyon Boulevard with a stop at the People Mover barn.

The east-west valley route includes a small loop with eight stops in Prairie City, more than a dozen stops in John Day and three stops in Mt. Vernon. The bus will also stop at Clyde Holliday State Park, which could be popular with tourists in summer time.

The current public transportation system in Grant County grew out of the People Mover program connected to the John Day Senior Center in the 1970s. The district was formalized in 1992, and the barn was remodeled the next year. The program has grown since then to eight vehicles.

Jones has lived in Grant County 19 1/2 years and has been with the transportation district for 7 1/2 years. In addition to Jones, the district has one dispatcher and 10 drivers.

Jones has served on the state’s Southeast Area Commission on Transportation for five years. She recently was appointed to the state’s Public Transportation Advisory Group, which meets in Salem, and the National Rural Transit Assistance Program, which meets twice a year in Washington, D.C., and will meet in Portland next year.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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