New Connector transit service in Lane County survives COVID

The Connector bus.
The Connector bus picks up and drops off at Eugene’s Amtrak Station.

The timing almost couldn’t have been worse. On Feb. 18, 2020, a small, enthusiastic group of public transit advocates celebrated the launch of a new bus service connecting Eugene to Florence and Yachats – a twice-per day run going from the busy Willamette Valley to the beautiful central Oregon coast.

And then COVID-19 hit.

“That first month, we had 188 riders, and then the restrictions were put in place,” explains Kelly Clarke, planner with Lane Council of Governments, which manages the Connector service and Link Lane, LCOG’s public transit program.

Naturally, the numbers dropped in April and May. Per protocol the rides were free but the pandemic was in full swing. Would the bus have any riders when summer came around?

In fact, they did, 316 riders took the Connector service in June, 316 in July and even in August – when fares went back in effect – they had 305 riders.

“The services are still afloat,” Mark Bernard, ODOT Regional Transit coordinator happily noted. “In fact, the Eugene to Florence service actually experienced ridership increases through September.”

An affordable, safe travel option

It’s $5 one way from Eugene to Florence and if you hop on the bus in Mapleton, it costs just a $1 to get to Florence. It’s $2.50 from Florence to Yachats or $5 for an all-day pass along that route.

There are several stops along the way, including at the Three Rivers Casino. The Florence to Yachats bus stops at the Carl G. Washburne State Park, and you can even request a drop-off in the Tenmile community area.

The buses are fully accessible and can carry bicycles.

“Last summer, we even saw riders with surfboards,” Clarke says.

Link Lane bus
Riders can bring bikes or surfboards on the new route.

Partnerships equal success

The collaboration Clarke has seen on this project has ensured its success, she says. LCOG hadn’t managed a transit service in several decades so Lane Transit District mentored them. Funding has come from the CARES Act, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund, managed by ODOT. Other partners providing key support include Travel Lane County, Lane Community College and several other groups.

“We’ve also had critical help from the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, the city of Florence and Siuslaw Vision,” she said. “We have a great advisory committee, too.”

Amtrak has been helpful, as well. Apparently, passengers departing from trains into Eugene – the Amtrak Cascades and the Coast Starlight – have often asked Amtrak about connections they can make from there to the coast. So Amtrak reached out to Clarke.

“You can now buy our Link Lane tickets for the Eugene to Florence route as part of your Amtrak ticket and it’s all done in one transaction,” says Clarke. “We’re working on being able to do that with the Florence to Yachats segment.

“They are an amazing partner!”

Growth ahead

The service is already responding to rider needs. In August, Clarke and team adjusted the schedule so that a rider can now go from Yachats to Eugene and back in one day.

LCOG recently received a Transportation Growth Management award that will help the team develop a plan for sustaining and growing the coastal-valley transportation link.

“There are a lot of good things to come,” Clarke says. “Together, we’ve accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. It’s definitely something to be proud of.”