C-TRAN celebrates 40th anniversary

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C-TRAN carries millions of passengers to their destinations around Clark County every year and this month the system is celebrating its 40-year anniversary with a display detailing its history and passenger giveaways.

Before the county-wide bus system was established, residents of North Clark County relied on personal cars to get into the city.

In July 1975, Washington Gov. Daniel Evans signed a law to establish public transportation benefit areas, said Chris Selk, C-TRAN director of communication and customer experience.

“C-TRAN, as it is today, was born from that program,” Selk said.

It was the approval of a 0.3 percent sales tax that made C-TRAN a possibility in 1980, she said.

In the first full year of operation, the system served 1,216,114 riders, Selk said.

Ridership skyrocketed once the 90s rolled around. By 1997, more than 6 million passengers rode on C-TRAN buses, she said.

“We were one of the fastest-growing systems in the country at that point,” Selk said.

The accelerated growth for C-TRAN slowed when a 1999 initiative passed, eliminating the motor vehicle excise tax, she said. That meant a $12 million annual cut for C-TRAN, equaling 40 percent of its budget.

More than 80 positions were eliminated, as well as several bus routes. The system was forced to draw from capital reserve funds to maintain operations, she said.

“But thankfully, voters overwhelmingly approved a sales tax increase in 2005. It was a true lifeline for public transit in Clark County,” Selk said.

There was another successful sales tax measure in 2011. Voters did not pass an initiative in 2004.

Before the pandemic, ridership continued to increase for the past three years, she said.

Selk predicts community involvement will rise again as COVID-19 cases fall. C-TRAN historically provided transportation to and from different events, like the fireworks show at Fort Vancouver, the Clark County Fair and Camas Days.

Since C-TRAN’s beginning, routes were offered to smaller communities, like Battle Ground, Yacolt and Amboy. Route 7 through Battle Ground is one of the paths that has remained virtually unchanged since the 80s, Selk said.

“Public transit grows as a community grows,” she said. “Economic and population growth is a reflection in transit.”

Suzann Schultz started working for C-TRAN in 1981 and dedicated 26 years of her career to the system.

Schultz was one of two customer service employees when the bus system first launched, she said. By the time she retired, there were more than 18 staff members in the department.

In 1977, Schultz and her family moved to Battle Ground from Iowa, then they moved again to Vancouver in 1992.

“C-TRAN always hired some of the nicest people I had ever met,” Schultz said. “They were all fun people to be around.”

She was responsible for selling bus passes for all areas from North Clark County to Portland.

Schultz remembers the first time C-TRAN offered transportation to the fireworks show on  July 4. The phones were ringing off the hook, she said.

Even after 40 years, Schultz is still friends with several of her co-workers. Before the pandemic, they would meet up every first Friday of the month for breakfast.

The Clark County Historical Museum will display an exhibit about C-TRAN’s first 40 years starting on July 9 at the Central Library in Vancouver on the fifth floor.

On July 8, C-TRAN will hand out anniversary giveaways and treats, including a bus pass worth $125, from 6 to 8 a.m. at 99th Street and Fisher’s Landing Transit Center and from noon to 2 p.m. at the Vancouver Mall Transit Center. Commemorative bus passes will be created for the occasion.

“Clark County has seen so much growth and change since 1981,” Selk said. “We’ve been really lucky to play a part in that. We look forward to serving our riders for another 40 years and beyond.”

More information can be found online at c-tran.com/40th.

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