Pioneer Express route now goes to Sellwood

Photograph by Miro Enriquez

Beginning Oct. 29 at 6 p.m., Lewis & Clark’s free shuttle, the Pioneer Express, will have stops in Sellwood and the South Waterfront. From there, the Pio will continue on to Fred Meyer and then return to campus. This new route is two years in the making and will replace the weekend route to Shattuck Hall at Portland State University. 

The route was originally pitched by the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC) during the 2019-20 school year. ASLC worked with LC’s Office of Parking and Transportation to plan the changes, with student focus groups providing their input. The initial surveying of student interest occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic, and these plans were delayed to after the pandemic as a result. Despite this delay, ASLC President Sarah Lind-MacMillan ’22 met virtually with a student committee of around 10 students, including ASLC members and members of the general student body, over the summer of 2021. Administration supervisors included Assistant Dean of Student Engagement Rocky Campbell, Director of Student Engagement Tamara Ko and Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan. 

Lind-MacMillan explains that the committee met often to discuss how to best pick a beneficial route while also considering finances. 

“The committee and I tried to meet regularly to start discussing the pros and cons, the current Pio route, what services we want to be connecting students to, like pharmacies and coffee shops, and learning the limitations of what we have to work with,” Lind-MacMillan said. “The Senate last school year approved a transfer of $100,000 from the ASLC rollover accounts, which are meant for projects that will benefit the whole school.”

Student committee member Fabian Guerrero ’23 said the students on the committee pushed hard for an east side route.

 “We really drilled into these meetings that the Pio needed to go to the east side, that it was kind of ridiculous that it didn’t and that we had to use other means in order to just get across the river,” Guerrero said. “It was important to me that students were able to do that because of the people that live in the east side, and because I wanted to buy into the spirit of public transportation, and I just noticed this dead spot that people wanted to go to, but weren’t able to.” 

One of the committee’s main goals in their planning was to strike a balance between what the students want and what is possible.

“We can’t go everywhere that we want, unfortunately,” Lind-MacMillan said. “But with what we do have, how can we meet this desire of students wanting to get to the east side?” 

Regular users of the Pio also expressed their desire for balance, including Makena Andersen ’24.

“The new route sounds good, but I wish I could have both the old and new options,”Andersen said.

Despite this sentiment, Andersen felt that the balance had been reached by retaining the Fred Meyer stop.

One of the key focuses of the new route’s design is sustainability and reducing students’ dependency on cars. The new stops link LC students to an abundance of Portland public transportation, particularly the bus system. While making this decision, the route’s designers wanted to encourage the use of the subsidized TriMet passes available to all LC students, purchasable through the online parking portal. They hope that this will boost accessibility to alternative and more sustainable transportation, reducing LC’s carbon footprint. 

According to Lind-MacMillan, the committee hopes that this access to the TriMet system increases transportation literacy at LC.  

“I hope it helps students feel more connected to the city,” Lind-MacMillan said. “Some people grew up utilizing public transit or had really strong public transit in their homes, and a lot of other people either didn’t have exposure to it or their cities didn’t have the infrastructure that some do. So for some, accessing things like TriMet could be really new or different.” 

ASLC and the student committee have organized a campaign to boost the connectivity between students and the city, such as by sharing information about things to do in Sellwood and how to use the TriMet system. 

This week, students will be tabling in front of Howard, to provide information about the new Pio schedule and route, hoping to help students with transportation literacy. They hope to make people aware of their transportation options, and emphasize that LC students receive a discount on TriMet, according to Guerrero. 

Transportation & Parking Service Manager Gabe Montez, along with other staff and students involved in the project, will be paying close attention to maximize the Pio’s efficiency. Montez voiced past concerns about underuse of the Pio and the carbon emissions that stem from that.

“We were emitting a lot of greenhouse gases when it was just running with nobody on it, and so that is a big concern of ours, as well as paying for a shuttle that doesn’t get much use,” Montez said.

The committee will be monitoring ridership hours and travel times, as well as student feedback, to best determine any alterations to the route to maximize sustainability and efficiency. 

“There will be some growing pains,” Montez said. “But again, I’m really excited about it. I’ve been using the Pio Express a bit, and it’s a great, great service.”

Some students, such as Michael Di Cesare ’24, are more apprehensive about the route, but are still open to the change.

“I don’t know a lot about Sellwood, but I think it could be a more popular destination,” Di Cesare said. “I like going to the (PSU) Farmers Market and the food trucks, but I’ll be trying it out.”

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