For Redmond Proficiency Academy students like Audrey Leask, the free student transit pass they are eligible to receive through Cascades East Transit is crucial.

“I think that if it wasn’t able to use CET, I wouldn’t have been able to attend (RPA), or it would have been a lot more difficult to attend,” said Audrey, a 16-year-old junior. “It’s very convenient. It saves money, and it saves gas. With the whole climate change aspect, it’s better to get more people on public transport.”

The public charter school has 325 students who live outside the Redmond School District boundaries, and 138 of them use the transit pass, said Sandy Cloud, an instructor at RPA’s downtown high school.

High school students walk a few blocks to the Redmond Transit Hub, at 777 SW Kalama Ave. between the Lowe’s and Fred Meyer Stores, while students at the RPA Middle School take a small bus to the station.

The RPA students were among those in attendance Oct. 15 at a Free Transit Tuesday event, where people got free rides and could learn more about alternatives to single-driver transportation in Central Oregon.

An average of 235 boardings at Community Connector buses that take people to Bend, Madras, Prineville and Sisters occurred daily in September at the Redmond Transit Hub.

But, with some planned changes in the coming years funded by an additional $7.6 million in state transit money for Deschutes County in 2019-21, the transit service looks to increase that number.

The money is funded by a new payroll tax, which will be renewed on two-year cycles.

Starting in 2020, Cascades East will start offering Saturday Community Connector service from Redmond to other area cities, said Derek Hofbauer, outreach and engagement administrator for Cascades East and the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council. The increased service will help low-income residents better connect with jobs.

Then, in 2021, up to two bus routes within Redmond could be added. Cascades East got input from the public at an Aug. 22 open house. Refined transit scenarios are being developed to be shown at another open house from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at Redmond City Hall.

Cascades East anticipates working with the city to select two routes, Hofbauer said. Both will run through the transit hub, with one likely paralleling Highway 97 in the northern part of Redmond, with the other in the southern part of the city, including South Canal Boulevard and Redmond Municipal Airport.

The new routes being two years out allows Cascades East to buy new buses and make sure the service is ready, Hofbauer said.

The Redmond route will initially be a “flex route,” Hofbauer said. That differs slightly from the fixed routes Cascades East now runs in Bend because any rider who lives within three-quarters of a mile of the bus route will be able to call and get the bus to pick them up at their home.

While the transit agency hopes to have fixed route service in Redmond within a few years, that will require changes to the dial-a-ride service for older and disabled riders.

“We want to operate the flex service to kind of test it to see how it works,” Hofbauer said.

Redmond Deputy City Manager John Roberts said the city will support whichever Cascades East proposal provides the best service and return on investment.

“We’re very supportive of having fixed-route service,” he said. “In the coming months, we’re going to start to drill into the alternatives.”

Wil Anderton, 16, an RPA junior who takes public transportation to and from Bend, said the transit service is a selling point for the school.

“That makes it really easy,” he said. “I feel that if more people knew that was an option, they’d look at RPA as a good place to go.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmond