The POINT is an intercity bus service funded and managed by the Public Transportation Division (PTD). The program is unique within ODOT and has a history stretching back to the 1990's. The following sections describe the history, policy, funding, structure, and objectives of this critical public transportation service which provides rides to over 8,000 passengers a month.
Statewide Transportation Policy in Support of POINT Program
The original basis for ODOT's investment in contract intercity bus service flows from its
Passenger Rail Program. The 1991 Oregon Legislature, through Senate Bill 763, directed ODOT to “…develop and maintain a state transportation policy for railroad passenger service and a comprehensive, long-range plan for railroad passenger service." Completion and adoption of the
Oregon Transportation Plan (OTP) in late 1992 marked the first multimodal transportation plan in the state's history and set forth Oregon's policy toward intercity passenger rail. The plan recommended the development of an intercity public transportation system, using bus and rail linking the major cities in the Willamette Valley where the preponderance of future population growth was expected to occur. This plan, along with the Oregon Rail Passenger Policy and Plan (ORPP) were adopted by the
Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) in 1992. The ORPP foresaw the need for expanded intercity bus schedules to complement passenger train service with the buses being replaced by trains as market conditions and funding warranted.
In 1994, ODOT began implementing the OTP and ORPP with the commencement of investments in passenger rail and contract intercity bus service. Oregon's provision of passenger train service began in October 1994 when ODOT contracted with Amtrak to extend an existing round-trip between Portland and Seattle to Eugene. At the same time, the ODOT Rail Division began funding a Portland-Eugene bus service intended to augment the new train service. This bus service, along with others in the years to follow, would eventually become the legacy projects that largely constitute POINT service today.
In addition to the formative plans mentioned above, there exists both historical precedent for ODOT's involvement in intercity bus service and a clear nexus between those investments and Oregon's statewide transportation policy both past and present. Below are the key plans which have guided the development of an intercity bus program and require its continuation.
- 1991 Oregon Legislature, Senate Bill 763 – This bill directed ODOT to “…develop and maintain a state transportation policy for railroad passenger service and a comprehensive, long range plan for railroad passenger service." The plan recommended the development of an intercity public transportation system, using bus and rail linking the major cities in the Willamette Valley where the preponderance of future population growth was expected to occur.
- 1992 Oregon Transportation Plan - The OTP, the first multimodal transportation plan in the state's history, called for hourly intercity bus between Portland and Eugene.
- 1995 Oregon Progress Board, Oregon Benchmarks - This measurement for implementing the Oregon Shines 20-year strategic plan calls for 99% of Oregon communities to have daily scheduled intercity bus, van, or rail by 2010.
- 1997 ODOT Oregon Transportation Plan, Oregon Public Transportation Plan - The 1997 OPTP statewide mode plan calls for intercity bus that will “complement rail service by augmenting train schedules, providing feeder service, and serving the bulk of intercity travel needs to communities outside of rail corridors." (p. III-6). Later in the plan: “The state, in partnership with others, should develop and maintain intercity bus and rail service contingent on the availability of adequate funding." (p. III-7).
- 1999 ODOT Oregon Transportation Plan, Oregon Highway Plan - The OTP identifies the need for ODOT to play a role in the provision of intercity services for the public: “Support the further development of alternative intercity passenger services in congested transportation corridors through additional peak hour service, use of excess freight rail system capacity, and the provision of support facilities and services which help connect passengers to their destinations (e.g., intercity passenger rail, air, and/or shuttle or charter bus operations coordinated with parking areas)." (Goal 4: Travel Alternatives, Policy 4B: Alternative Passenger Modes, Action 4B.5, p. 139-40)
- 2001 ODOT Public Transit Division Intercity Passenger Program Biennial Report - The Report articulates a 2000 OTC-approved vision of reducing “gaps" and supporting “intermodal hubs" within a statewide transit network: “Develop financial incentives for intercity transportation which support private investment in intercity transportation and protect public interest in the private system." (p. 35)
- 2006 ODOT Oregon Transportation Plan - The OTP accurately foresaw declines in regional and national carriers, like Greyhound, which continue to the present day: “Privately owned intercity bus service may need public support to continue to provide an essential service [by 2025]." (p. 86)
- 2015 ODOT Rail and Public Transit Division, State Management Plan - Service delivery is identified as a Key Program Focus Area under ODOT's Transit Network Program: “Support direct contracting for transit service such as the Public Oregon Intercity Transit (POINT) bus service." (p. 84)
- Governor's Transportation Vision Panel (May 2016) - The Panel found that then-current service levels continue to be inadequate for Oregonians: “There is a strong regional desire for improved and increased intercity transit connections that link towns to urban centers and the region to other part of the state." (p. 33)
- 2021-23 Strategic Action Plan - The SAP states that the agency “must be relentlessly committed to creating a truly multimodal transportation system where we invest in and integrate all major modes of transportation" (p. 3) and calls for ODOT to “change today's funding model to one that invests more money in alternative transportation options, including …public transportation" (p. 4). The Plan goes on to acknowledge that “Increasing equitable access to active and public transportation ensures mobility needs are met and helps ODOT achieve its greenhouse gas emission targets (p. 10).
Today, ODOT's direct involvement in providing intercity bus service is demonstrated by the POINT: a consolidated statewide investment strategy managed by the Public Transportation Division and intended to fill gaps in the intercity transit network by operating where service is limited or nonexistent. Through grants and technical assistance, PTD facilitates and empowers public and private sector carriers first to address travel needs deemed critical by the Agency, its external partners, and other factors. When this is not possible, PTD then aspires to bring POINT service to areas where there is a travel need that cannot be met by current public and private sector carriers due to operational cost, complexity, or jurisdictional restrictions.
Guided by historical precedent and state policy, it was this aspiration that led to the selection of a Klamath Falls-Medford-Brookings bus route for investment following robust analysis and engagement with transit providers and the Public Transportation Advisory Committee. This process, conducted between 2007 and 2008, was undertaken as a gap analysis pilot project by ODOT and its external partners to leverage new Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding rules and provide service to underserved regions of Oregon. The project resulted in the creation of SouthWest Route service which has been in continuous operation in the region since March 2009. This was the first official POINT route. This robust approach for route selection has not been repeated to date and no additional POINT routes have been added to ODOT's program since that time due to limited funding, limited staffing, and different priorities for PTD.
In the years that followed, all intercity bus services started by the Rail Division to support train service were folded into the POINT service. These included services in Eastern, Central, and Northwest Oregon. Visit the POINT website to learn more about the routes currently in operation. The POINT branding concept and naming scheme was a nod to the Washington Department of Transportation's Travel Washington intercity bus service.
The investments which are made today as part of the POINT program largely occur within the broader FTA Section 5311 funding program, specifically, Section 5311(f) which requires that a “state must use at least 15 percent of its annual apportionment to support intercity bus service." Federal dollars constitute the majority of funding for POINT service contracts, with the remaining 0% to 50% of funding from the state Flex and Enhance Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds depending on the contract. ODOT is not an eligible recipient of Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund (STIF) funds so none are used for POINT. The Section 5311(f) program's objectives include supporting, 1) “the connection between rural areas and the larger regional or national system of intercity bus service", 2) “services to meet the intercity travel needs of residents in rural areas", and 3) “the infrastructure of the intercity bus network through planning and marketing assistance and capital investment in facilities." There are a range of eligible activities and subrecipients under the 5311(f) program, including contractual relationships with private operators of intercity bus service. Visit the PTD website to learn about the Division's many funding programs.
The POINT is an entirely contract-operated service with contracts being awarded through competitive procurements in accordance with all state and federal guidelines. As such, ODOT is not the direct operator or carrier for POINT service, does not own POINT buses, nor does it employ POINT drivers. POINT contractors are not ODOT employees. ODOT actively encourages public and private sector partners to bid on contracts and engages external partners on the review of RFP proposals. The scope of every service contract is based on decades of guidance from internal and external subject matter experts, input from operators, feedback from passengers and the general public, industry best practice, and more. Contracts are put through rigorous review and scrutiny by the ODOT Procurement Office and the Oregon Department of Justice prior to and during the contract period. They are reviewed, refined, and amended continuously to maximize the effectiveness of the service. Every word and provision in every POINT contract has been developed through this process.
Today, the service is predominately oriented around providing passengers with connections to and from Amtrak train stations and major transit centers and hubs in order to maximize the geographic reach and impact of each route. Whenever possible, bus stops are shared and schedules coordinated with local transit service in each route's respective service area to support existing service, enable easy transfers between services, and strengthen the robustness of the statewide transit network. PTD prioritizes maintaining and making new connections with existing public and private transit services and takes the schedules of these services into consideration when planning POINT service.
To provide the most seamless and reliable travel experience to passengers, the POINT is set up as a reservation-based service and primarily relies on ticketing services provided by national carriers like Amtrak and Greyhound/FlixBus. POINT drivers currently do not sell tickets for this reason. Visit the POINT website to learn about the ways to buy a ticket.
Across the state and on all routes, PTD and its POINT contractors respond to changing road and weather conditions on a regular basis. This can include re-routing, cancelling, or suspending service for a wide variety of reasons and durations, running delayed service, and more. When this occurs, ODOT and its POINT contractors follow a similar standard operating procedure of notifying partners and the public. Passengers are encouraged to follow the POINT on Facebook and check the POINT website to stay up to date on service changes, alerts, and news.