In September of 2006, the City of Bend announced with much fanfare the beginnings of a new public transit system. To many in the city, the Bend Area Transit bus system symbolized the growth of the region.
Central Oregon correspondent Ethan Lindsey reports that now some accuse the city of moving too fast.
Until last year, Bend was the largest city west of the Mississippi without a public transit system. But by last September, many retirees and residents were clamoring for bus routes.
They said a city that had tripled in population in less than 20 years needed alternative modes of transportation. So, the city council quickly approved and financed the 'Bend Area Transit' bus system.
Six routes now average more than 5000 riders every week. There are still some growing pains, says Andrea McCullough, communications manager with the city.
Andrea McCullough: “We just dedicated our first bench - our BAT bench. And we'll have more benches showing up around by the bus stops.”
But in order to have a bus system — you need buses.
After the city council approved the transit idea, it purchased six buses from Southern California-based Transit Sales International, for $220,000.
Now, just months after the city began running the bus system — two of the buses failed. And the city sued the company for $265,000 — the sale price plus repair expenses. In the lawsuit, the city accuses the company of knowingly selling bum buses.
But Martin Hansen, the Bend-based attorney for the company, says the city is at fault. And he says the company this week filed a response to the suit — claiming the city bought the buses and started running them without maintenance facilities.
Martin Hansen: “The city announced to our people when they first contacted us, that even though the city hadn't one for a hundred years, the city needed to have a bus system in a month and a half - they had a specific date they wanted to have an announcement.”
Lawyers for both sides are currently exchanging documents and evidence. The city and the company both expect federal court in Eugene to hear the case sometime next year.
In the meantime, Bend bus riders are stuck riding smaller vans, previously used for shuttling the handicapped and elderly. And the two broken buses are being salvaged for spare parts to keep the other four buses on the road.