By Ann McCreary
The county’s fledgling public transportation system, with a new name and logo, began providing service last month in the Okanogan Valley, and is developing plans to expand into the Methow Valley and other areas of the county.
Created through voter approval in 2013 as Okanogan County Transit Authority, the bus service is now called TranGO, for Transit of Greater Okanogan.
TranGO launched service July 1 by taking over a busy shuttle route between Omak and Okanogan that was previously operated by the private, nonprofit Okanogan County Transportation and Nutrition (OCTN) service.
“It was an existing service that we could improve on,” said Kelly Scalf, TranGO’s manager.
TranGO expanded the shuttle service from seven hours to 12 hours, operating from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and holidays.
Service is being provided with three buses purchased by TranGO last year, and the buses are carrying about 100 riders a day, Scalf said.
“Even in our first hour we had riders on board,” she said.
During the first month, TranGO offered the shuttle service for free. In August the bus company began charging $1 per trip and monthly passes for $30 that provide unlimited trips.
“As we move out to the Methow Valley, Tonasket and Oroville, we expect fares will be similar,” Scalf said.
TranGO’s staff and board of directors are currently developing a six-year transit plan to guide expansion of service throughout the county, Scalf said. The transit authority has been surveying county residents to identify their transportation needs related to things like employment, health care and recreation.
Scalf said a draft of the transit plan is expected to be completed in September. It will be made public and the community will have an opportunity to comment at public meetings and by mail or email.
Bus service, including vanpools and fixed routes, will begin in the Methow Valley next year or possibly sooner, she said.
“We will be establishing employment vanpools in the next couple of months,” Scalf said. Vanpooling could be made available to the Methow Valley, she said.
The Methow Valley, as well as Omak and Tonasket, will probably have small transit centers that will house buses and provide space for maintenance and repairs.
TranGO will continue to work in cooperation with OCTN, which can provide door-to-door transportation and trips to health care providers in Wenatchee, Scalf said.
An operations manager, Brent Timm, was recently hired. When fully staffed, TranGO will likely employ 20-25 people, Scalf said.
County voters approved a sales tax levy in November 2013 to support development of a public transit system.