It's noon on a Friday and I am standing outside of the Portland Hilton on SW 6th and Salmon, waiting for my ride.
Today, May 25, is the big debut for the Woodburn Outlet Express
, a new shuttle bus service that, for 20 bucks, takes downtown riders to the largest tax-free outlet venue in the West.
Despite the press (including an article in The Oregonian
), I wait alone. There are no signs, no greeter, absolutely no indication that I am waiting at the right spot, other than the red star on my ticket stub marking this intersection as the pick-up point.
The designated loading area across the street is occupied by another shuttle bus, and because this is a public right of way, the City of Portland won't reserve the space for any particular entity. I begin to wonder if my bus had to find another, more suitable spot.
The low, lumbering sound of a large engine gives me some comfort, and as it rounds the corner, I see a shuttle bus plastered with conspicuous advertisements for Woodburn. It passes by the occupied spot, rounds another corner, continues down 6th street, and disappears. Did I miss it?
It lurches back around again, seemingly searching for another landing pad. Finally, it parks behind the other shuttle, and directly in front of a parking garage, blocking the exit. I make a run for it, crossing the street on a red light, and hop on.
The bus driver steps out to look for more passengers, hops back on, and says, “Well, I guess that's it.”
The bus occupancy is 55. With me on board, there are 54 empty seats. This could be a long ride.
I introduce myself to my driver, Doug White, who tells me he was “excited to finally have a shopper on board, but you're in the media!” Always good to know where I stand.
Doug is a chipper fellow, 60 years young; a Vietnam vet who has been eager to begin this route because of the convenient schedule. The shuttle service offers one trip daily Monday-Thursday, and commutes twice Friday through Sunday. It takes about an hour to get from downtown Portland to the outlet stores, including a stop in Lake Oswego.
“Personally I have a vested interest that this project succeeds,” Doug says as we pull out of the downtown construction mania, “I like this route because I can get home and have a home-cooked meal with a woman I've been married to for 33 years. She's a very good cook.”
After chatting for a bit, Doug shows me a video made by the Woodburn Outlet Media Staff. “Parking is free, easy, and convenient,” the video claims. But gas isn't. Neither is getting to Woodburn without wheels.
“It's sad that there is no mass transit that takes people down there,” says Lisa Itel, Woodburn Outlet's Marketing Tourism Director. “We've had so many requests from people from all over the world wondering ‘how do I get to Woodburn,' so our whole staff thought we should just give this a shot.”
Woodburn Outlet Personnel plan to run this shuttle through September as a trial period, with hopes that enough people will jump on board and catapult this into a permanent route.
But like all new endeavors, building up momentum can be a slow ordeal.
Only 21 riders took advantage of this service over the Memorial Day weekend--hardly maximum capacity.
“We understand that this will take a few weeks,” says Itel, adding, “We're very confident that this is going to work.”
As he pulled into the Woodburn parking lot, Doug said, “The mall is very successful. If the bus isn't, it doesn't mean the mall isn't. They'll be building on the success of what's already going on here.”
Building success, one shopper at a time—media not included.