People in certain parts of Bend can once again request a free van service to get around town. The rides are part of a study by Oregon State University-Cascades, with the results eyed by city leaders as one way to ease traffic congestion and build participation in public transit systems. 

Ride Bend is serving a chunk of the city’s core and its west side until March 30. Passengers use an app, or call a phone number to contact a van driver for pick up weekdays between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Researchers have found door-to-door rides are actually cheaper to provide than some fixed bus routes in Bend. A bus from Central Oregon Community College was discontinued in 2018 because so few people rode it. 

OSU-Cascades transportation planner Casey Bergh said public transit use is declining in most cities across the country. 

“New services being technology-oriented may be our best opportunity to attract people to transit that may not have ridden the bus before,” Bergh said. 

He authored a report about the Ride Bend pilot, which found the service encouraged shared rides, helped reduce congestion and eased parking demand in popular areas.

The report recommends the “continuation of on-demand services in summer 2020 … to allow for additional advertisement of the new service in conjunction with additional education and outreach to residents and existing transit riders.”

The City of Bend and Cascades East Transit are both in the process of overhauling long-term regional transportation plans.