New routes expand county transit agency’s reach
By Hailey Le Roy
Starting Monday (July 10), Transit for Greater Okanogan (TranGO) will begin bus service to Mazama, which will result in shifting Methow Valley routes from the current one-hour circuit to two hours.
TranGO General Manager Brent Timm said he hopes this shift is temporary, as he “[anticipates] seeing an increase in ridership” that will justify another bus, and return TranGO to its regular hourly service in the valley.
“I totally can see a demand for it. We just have to show the justification,” Timm said.
The change tacks Mazama onto the Twisp-Winthrop route, usually completed every hour. Including other routes that are changing throughout its system, TranGO is expanding by 20%, Timm said.
To account for the service gap in the valley and ensure riders get to work on time, busing will now begin at 7 a.m. For example: the Twisp-Okanogan route will get riders to TranGO’s Okanogan office by 7:45 a.m., giving those who work in Omak enough time to use the Okanogan-Omak route at 8:45. This consideration includes the return trip, with the last Omak-Okanogan route beginning at 5:31 p.m.
TranGO’s staff designed routes in tandem, allowing those making long commutes (such as from Winthrop to Omak and back) to painlessly transfer buses.
According to Timm, budgeting is the major factor in the hourly shift. Since the global pandemic, busing resources are scarce. TranGO is also looking to replace its older fleet of buses already in use, which delays increasing the total number of vehicles on the road.
“Vehicles are really hard to come by right now,” he said.
TranGO is also facing a driver deficit, another reason for the service delay. According to Timm, it costs around $5,000 to provide training for a Commercial Driver’s License and passenger endorsement, and qualified drivers are hard to come by.
Timm said that valley members requested a route to Mazama since TranGO’s 2015 inception. This need was further illustrated in various surveys, which convinced TranGO’s board to vote for expanding routes to accommodate demand.
Ensuring that all the routes are coordinated proved to be quite a challenge to TranGO’s staff, Timm said. To perfect each route they used a computer program that digitally runs through the schedule while accounting for factors that are easy to overlook, such as drive time.
To the public, Timm says to “please be patient” with TranGO. It will be adjustment for both riders and drivers, he said, but “we’ll get through this together.” Ultimately, he is excited to begin providing access to the Pacific Crest Trail and the other recreative opportunities Mazama offers.
TranGO is hosting a celebration of this commencement on July 11 from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. A bus will travel through the valley and bring riders to the Mazama Store for lunch. Registration through Methow at Home’s website is required.
In addition to extending service to Mazama, TranGO will begin servicing Conconully and Aeneas Valley. All new routes are on TranGO’s website under the “Schedules” tab at https://okanogantransit.com/services/.
For additional information, call TranGO’s office: (509) 557-6177.