The May election for the Sunset Empire Transportation District Board has drawn several new candidates hoping to help guide the bus agency’s growth.
In Position 1, incumbent Tracy MacDonald, a retired emergency responder, is facing Larry Taylor, a retired technology worker and former chairman of the Clatsop County Democrats.
MacDonald, 68, retired from Medix Ambulance Service, drove for Schwan’s Food Service and provided senior on-call transportation for Sunset Empire before joining the board four years ago.
As a driver for Schwan’s, MacDonald said, he witnessed firsthand people without cars or too old to drive isolated in rural areas, an issue he hoped to help alleviate.
Taylor, 66, recently retired from the technology sector, including a stint at Intel. He ran for Astoria mayor in 2014, losing to Arline LaMear.
“The kinds of things that the board needs in terms of oversight and analysis is really similar to what I did at intel,” he said.
In Position 2, retired 911 dispatcher Lylla Gaebel is facing Debbie Boothe-Schmidt, a trial assistant with the Clatsop County District Attorney’s Office and co-owner of Phog Bounders Antique Mall in Astoria.
Gaebel, 73, a former Clatsop County commissioner and Warrenton city commissioner, has been on the transportation district’s board about six of the past 10 years. Her goal is to ensure public transportation is available for seniors and low-income residents unable to drive, she said.
“As I’m growing older now, I know there’s going to come a day when I can’t drive anymore, and I want to make sure public transportation is there and available for me,” Gaebel said.
Boothe-Schmidt, 64, said she was looking for another volunteer opportunity for when she steps down as president of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
“When I started looking at open positions, I was interested in rural law enforcement, but that’s a conflict of interest with the DA’s office,” she said. “I’d like to see more ridership on the buses … more community outreach if possible.”
After temporarily facing the loss of nearly half his operating budget during the recent federal government shutdown, Jeff Hazen, the transit district’s executive director, is overseeing an expanding agency buffeted by a statewide payroll tax expected to provide an additional $1.4 million annually.
Candidates are hopeful the district can expand service in rural areas, and that technology such as Wi-Fi on buses and online scheduling can entice more riders.
MacDonald hopes to see more investment in on-demand transportation, such as Dial-A-Ride, while focusing on on-time arrivals and clean buses.
Sunset Empire recently experienced a significant data loss that ultimately cost the agency more than $60,000. Taylor wants to focus on tightening the bus agency’s procedures to avoid such situations, while digging into metrics to see where it can best serve riders.
“I think that technology will definitely help,” Gaebel said of increasing ridership. “If we had Wi-Fi on the bus, I think that’s something people would definitely like to have.”