Cherriots has grown into a public transit system providing bus service over 76 square miles in the mid-Willamette Valley. The special district’s roots go back to the 1960s and 1970s when the bus system operated under city control. In 1966, local government started operating the transit system when the city of Salem purchased Capitol City Lines, a driver-owned bus company. The new transit system was named Cherriots to reflect Salem’s “Cherry City” nickname and as a play on the word “chariots.” In the mid-1970s, some local and state leaders called for a stand-alone public transit agency, governed by its own board of directors. Voters in 1979 passed a measure to create the Salem Area Mass Transit District. The Transit District is best known as Cherriots, its operating name.
November 1979: Voters within the Salem Urban Growth Boundary approve a ballot measure to establish the Salem Area Mass Transit District. The first Board of Directors is elected.
February 1981: Voters pass the Transit District’s first property tax levy. The one-year operating levy of more than $2.1 million provides funds for the operation of an area-wide bus system starting July 1,1981.The area within city limits was formerly served by the city of Salem bus system. The area outside city limits was served by two special service districts, which contracted with Hamman Stage Lines.
July 1981: The District begins operation of the bus system. The Board of Directors sets policies, establishes bus routes, and manages the budget. But the city of Salem retains control of transit equipment and transit staff are city employees.
September 1981: Gordon Aoyagi, a transit executive from Westport, Conn., selected as the first General Manager.
July 1982: All remaining transit operations are spun out of the city of Salem. Buses and transit employees are officially transferred from the city of Salem to the District.
August 1983: Bus service on Lancaster Route 11 begins. Cherriots calls it Salem’s “first across town route.”
September 1983: A new passenger loading area, called a transit island, opens on High Street in front of Marion County Courthouse. It’s intended to be a temporary facility, to be used for five to eight years, until a dedicated, off-street transit center can be developed.
January 1984: The Cherriots Board of Directors agrees to spend $35,000 on a study to evaluate building a transit center on the block bounded by High, Church, Court and Chemeketa streets NE. (This is the present day location of the Downtown Transit Center and the Courthouse Square office building.)
May 1984: Voters reject a $2.29 million tax base to support transit. The tax base would have cost residents about 72 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The District must fall back on the last year of a two-year operating levy and return to voters for further financing.
May 1984: To improve the efficiency of its operations, Cherriots switches to an exact fare system.
March 1985: Voters reject a three-year, $6 million transit levy.
June 1985: Voters approve a one-year, $1.3 million transit levy.
September 1985: Cherriots General Manager Gordon Aoyagi takes a new job with a transit agency in Montgomery County, Maryland and announces his resignation from Cherriots. The District appoints Al Hampton, as interim general manager.
January 1986: A serious error is discovered in the District’s budget. The budget contains about $1.1 million more than officials thought. A follow-up review by an independent financial analyst finds other accounting problems. An audit report for the 1984-85 year indicates the transit agency’s general ledger did not balance.
February 1986: The Cherriots Board of Directors adopts a package of recommendations intended to fix problems with budgeting, accounting, and investment practices.
May 1986: Voters pass a $1.5 million tax base for transit. The base will cost property owners about 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The base replaces a $1.2 million one-year levy that expires in June 1987.
June 1988: City of Salem officials ask the District to find a new home for the bus terminal on High Street NE. The current location creates a traffic bottleneck. Cherriots managers also dislike the setup. The site is inefficient for transit operations and poses safety hazards for pedestrians.
June 1988: The District moves into its maintenance and operations base at Del Webb Avenue NE.
October 1988: About 25 protesters picket the transit center because Cherriots buses are not equipped to accommodate certain types of wheelchairs.
August 1989: Twenty-four buses in the 43-vehicle Cherriots fleet are modified to accommodate riders using motorized wheelchairs and other special chairs. Previously, the buses could only accommodate standard wheelchairs.
November 1989: Cherriots celebrates its 10th anniversary.
November 1989: The Cherriots Board of Directors chooses the block bounded by High, Church, Court and Chemeketa streets NE as its first choice for a new transit center and office building. The site is currently occupied by 14 retail businesses and 66 residents, including renters living in the Marion County-run Senator Building. At a public hearing, the plan faces intense opposition.
August 1990: The city of Salem joins Marion County and the District on a task force looking at options for a downtown transit center. The Senator Hotel block, bounded by High, Church, Court and Chemeketa streets NE, remains the top choice.
March 1991: General Manager Al Hampton retires.
March 1991: Plans to move the downtown transit center from its current location on High Street NE, near Marion County Courthouse, are put on hold indefinitely. District officials are unable to build public support for a proposal to move the transit center to the Senator Hotel Block.
July 1991: Gregory Cook becomes Cherriots third General Manager. He previously managed transit operations in Gainesville, Florida and Mobile, Alabama.
October 1991: All 18 routes operated by Cherriots are undergoing changes to improve the transit system’s reliability. A new route will bring buses to the previously underserved Chapman Hill area.
July 1992: Four Cherriots buses are the first in the nation to have a system that announces bus stops in a human-sounding voice.
July 1992: Cherriots officials approve a plan to install bike racks on some buses. More bike racks could be installed if they prove to be popular with riders.
September 1992: Cherriots dips into its reserves to balance its budget and looks for a new funding source. The District’s funding is pinched between property-tax limiting Measure 5 and federal mandates to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
February 1993: General Manager Greg Cook warns that Cherriots could face service cuts in two years without additional revenue. A payroll tax on businesses is proposed to increase revenue. Cherriots Board of Directors approves sending a $1.5 million tax base increase to voters.
June 1993: The Cherriots Board of Directors sends a payroll tax to voters. The transit systems in Portland and Eugene have been financed by a similar payroll tax for 24 years.
September 1993: Salem-area voters reject a payroll tax for transit by a more than 2 to 1 margin.
March 1994: Cherriots prepares to install bike racks on all of its buses.
May 1994: Voters reject tax base increase.
February 1995: A proposal to develop a new transit center and office complex at Court and High streets NE is considered. The plan upsets historic preservationists because it would require razing the 1900 Odd Fellows building and Grand Theater. Developing a transit center on the ground floor of the Marion Parkade at Union and High streets NE has also been discussed.
February 1995: The Cherriots Board of Directors seeks voter approval of a one-year, 80 percent tax increase. General Manager Greg Cook says Cherriots faces a $1.2 million to $1.5 million deficit in the next two-year budget period starting July 1. Sharp cuts in bus service may become necessary without additional revenue.
April 1995: General Manager Greg Cook announces that he is leaving Cherriots for a higher-paying job with a transit agency in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
May 1995: Voters approve a one-year levy that keeps bus service at current levels. About one-third of Cherriots service would have been cut without the levy’s approval.
June 1995: Denny Moore appointed as interim general manager. Moore was most recently an intergovernmental relations representative for Cherriots.
August 1995: R.G. Andersen-Wyckoff, a former Salem mayor, is hired as general manager.
August 1995: A citizens committee considers locations for a new transit center in downtown Salem.
September 1995: The Board of Directors approves the Senator Block, named for the old Senator Hotel, as the location for the new transit center.
December 1995: The Board of Directors approves the concept for Courthouse Square, an office building and transit center in the 200 block of Church Street NE. The property is the Senator Hotel Block, which is mostly owned by Marion County. The Transit District and Marion County will jointly own Courthouse Square. The initial plan calls for a public-private partnership. Officials hope to find a private developer willing to provide construction financing for the estimated $30 million project.
March 1996: The Cherriots Board of Directors will ask voters to approve a $5.9 million tax base. The money would stabilize the district’s financing and provide improved service.
May 1996: Two private development teams compete for the Courthouse Square project. Each presents their conceptual plans for Courthouse Square to Marion County and the District. One development team is headed by Dan Berrey, an associate broker with Prudential Real Estate Professional’s Salem office. Berrey resigns from the Board of Directors to avoid a conflict between his elected position and financial interest in Courthouse Square. The other development team is led by Jim McGregor with SABA Investments of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.
May 1996: Voters approve the new $5.9 million tax base.
June 1996: Dan Berrey, a local real estate agent, is selected as Courthouse Square’s developer. Marion County decides to issue bonds to pay for its share of the Courthouse Square project.
July 1996: For the first time, Cherriots begins providing evening bus service. The buses operate until 9:30 p.m.
February 1997: The Board of Directors agrees to make a $1 million payment to Marion County to buy land for Courthouse Square. The project teams the transit agency, the county and private developer Dan Berrey.
February 1997: The Courthouse Square project has problems staying on budget. An environmental cleanup and design changes inflate the project’s cost.
March 1997: Cherriots begins only stopping at designated bus stops. Previously, riders could flag down buses.
May 1997: Federal Transit Authority provides $9.3 million for a transit center at Courthouse Square.
May 1997: Demolition work begins on the Senator Block buildings to make way for Courthouse Square.
June 1997: Dan Berrey is paid a $300,000 settlement to leave the Courthouse Square project after negotiations over his salary reach an impasse.
June 1997: Melvin Mark Development Co., a Portland firm, becomes the new project manager for Courthouse Square.
July 1997: A 120-foot tall crane with a wrecking ball takes down the Senator Hotel to make way for Courthouse Square. The “Great Downtown Brick Giveaway” allows the public to salvage free bricks from demolition debris.
September 1997: The Courthouse Square project shrinks because of financing issues. Courthouse Square’s budget drops from $36 million to $27 million. The office building’s size is trimmed by 30,000 square feet and a proposed two-level parking garage is replaced with a single-level garage.
November 1997: The Statesman Journal publishes its three-part “Courthouse Square: What Went Wrong?” series. One of the stories raises questions about public officials who gained personal financial benefits from the Courthouse Square project.
December 1997: Rising costs and questionable management decisions leave the Courthouse Square project mired in controversy. The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce prepares a report critical of the project’s leadership. R.G. Andersen-Wyckoff and Randy Curtis step down as project managers. Bill Frey, the project’s leasing agent, also resigns. A six-member citizens oversight committee is formed to examine Courthouse Square and recommend whether it should proceed.
March 1998: An adult full-fare ride on Cherriots costs 75 cents. Youth ages 6-12 pay 50 cents.
April 1998: Despite concerns about how the Courthouse Square project has been managed, the citizens oversight committee determines the project should proceed in a 4-2 vote.
August 1998: The Cherriots Board of Directors lay the groundwork to begin bus service in rural Marion and Polk counties. The service would be operated through a contract with a private bus company.
September 1998: The state employee bus pass program begins. The state-funded program will provide bus passes free of charge to state employees who work in the Capitol Mall area.
November 1998: The Board of Marion County Commissioners gives its OK to sell $22 million worth of bonds to help finance the construction of Courthouse Square. The $34 million project is a joint venture between the county and Cherriots.
January 1999: R.G. Andersen-Wyckoff announces his resignation effective in February. The Cherriots general manager is leaving for a new job as general manager of the Recreation Centers of Sun City West Inc., near Phoenix, Arizona.
March 1999: Excavation begins on Courthouse Square site.
June 1999: Jeff Hamm becomes Cherriots General Manager.
July 1999: Construction of Courthouse Square is well underway.
October 1999: Cherriots tests video security systems on some of its buses.
December 1999: Regularly scheduled bus service to Stayton and Sublimity begins.
September 2000: The $34 million Courthouse Square office building and transit center has its grand-opening ceremony.
October 2000: Ridership on Cherriots buses increases by nearly 10 percent a year after the Downtown Transit Center opens.
February 2001: Construction of Courthouse Square comes in nearly $900,000 under budget.
May 2001: The Transit District’s budget calls for the creation of the Chemeketa Area Regional Transportation System, better known as CARTS, to provide rides for rural residents.
August 2002: CARTS service for north Marion County residents is reduced by 20 percent.
December 2003: Annual ridership on Cherriots passes the 5 million mark for the first time.
December 2003: Costs for the CherryLift paratransit service are increasingly rapidly. Staff expects CherryLift will go over budget by $200,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
May 2004: Monthly rides scheduled through Triplink, a Cherriots call center that assists Oregon Health Plan clients with transportation to medical appointments, exceeds 12,000.
June 2004: The Cherriots strategic plan calls for a new approach to managing bus routes. The new approach is known as a 3Cs structure for circulators, centers, and corridors. Route plans would follow a structure based on connecting neighborhoods and high-frequency bus routes to multiple transit centers. It’s a shift away from the current pulse system, where all routes depart for the Downtown Transit Center.
July 2005: Cherriots takes over Mid Valley Rideshare (now the Transportation Options program). The program, promoting carpooling and vanpooling, was previously operated by the city of Salem.
January 2006: The Cherriots Board of Directors agrees to send a 5-year property tax levy to voters at a rate of 60-cents per 1,000 of assessed value. The funding would maintain current levels of service and add service improvements, such as Sunday bus service.
May 2006: The property tax levy fails.
July 2006: The Cherriots Board of Directors decides to go out with another tax measure in November at a rate of 60-cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
September 2006: Cherriots cuts its staffing and service by 17 percent. Cherriots management says it’s the largest service reduction in the Transit District’s history.
October 2006: General Manager Jeff Hamm announces he is leaving Cherriots in December to take a job with the transit system in Vancouver, Washington.
October 2006: Paving stones covering the surface of the Downtown Transit Center shift and settle. The District files a lawsuit to recover damages caused by construction and design defects.
November 2006: Structural and nonstructural defects at the Courthouse Square office building result in more litigation filed by the District and Marion County.
November 2006: The latest tax levy is defeated by a narrow margin.
January 2007: John Whittington becomes interim general manager.
April 2007: Allan Pollock is selected as Cherriots general manager. He previously served as director of transportation for the city of Montebello California. Pollock will start work at Cherriots in June.
August 2007: The District’s plans call for adding transit centers in south Salem and Keizer.
January 2008: Cherriots updates its fleet with 14 new “clean-diesel” powered buses.
May 2008: To avoid budget cuts, the Board of Directors approves a plan to use nearly all of the District’s reserves.
December 2008: Cherriots must take aggressive actions to balance its budget in the wake of the levy failure. The Board votes to eliminate Saturday bus service starting in mid-January. Saturdays have averaged about 9,000 passengers on Cherriots buses and 120 rides on CherryLift buses.
September 2009: New bus routes operate on 15-minute and 30-minute schedules. The revamped system improves frequency on the most heavily used routes, but service reductions are made in other areas.
November 2009: Cherriots celebrates its 30th anniversary.
February 2010: The Keizer Transit Center project moves forward after years of discussion and many public meetings. A 2.6-acre site near the northeast corner of Chemawa Road and Keizer Station Boulevard is selected. The project will cost about $8.1 million.
March 2010: Ten years after it opened, the Courthouse Square building shows signs of worsening structural defects, such as cracked concrete, uneven floors and bent window frames. The building’s movement alarms transit and county officials. Courthouse Square undergoes a half-million dollar engineering study to determine what’s causing its many problems.
June 2010: Cherriots plans for a two-week closure of the Downtown Transit Center to give engineers time to closely examine the transit center’s structural issues. A temporary transit center is established in front of the Capitol on Court Street NE.
July 2010: Engineers determine the entire Courthouse Square complex is too dangerous to occupy because of structural defects. The Downtown Transit Center is immediately closed to the public. Next, engineers find serious problems in the Courthouse Square office building and its occupants are given 60 days to move out. Approximately 33 to 35 columns in the building are carrying a greater load than is allowed by the building code. Samples of concrete used in the structure fail strength tests. The transit center continues to operate in a temporary location. Cherriots and Marion County begin searching for leased space for administrative offices.
September 2010: All the offices and retail space in Courthouse Square has been vacated. Cherriots temporarily relocates its administrative office to leased space on 925 Commercial Street SE.
September 2010: Cherriots raises adult fares to $1.50, a 20 percent increase. The cost of youth fare rises to $1.25, a 25 percent increase.
November 2010: Questions arise about whether Courthouse Square should be repaired or demolished. The Courthouse Square Solutions Task Force, a 23-member citizens group, is formed to advise the county and the transit agency.
February 2011: After two previous relocations, the Downtown Transit Center finds a new temporary home. The Cherriots buses begin lining up along the perimeter of Courthouse Square.
May 2011: An investigation by forensic engineers with Golder Associates Inc. determines that Courthouse Square’s problems started with bad engineering and worsened when early signs of structural defects were downplayed.
December 2011: Cherriots purchases a hybrid gas-electric bus that will be used for its rural regional service.
May 2012: The District’s Board of Directors and the Marion County Board of Commissioners, in separate meetings, vote unanimously to move ahead with repairs for Courthouse Square. About $22.8 million will be spent on fixing the office building and Downtown Transit Center.
August 2012: Construction of the Keizer Transit Center begins.
September 2012: Structural Preservation Systems LLC is selected for the Courthouse Square remediation project. A carbon fiber material, which is 10 times stronger than steel, is used to strengthen Courthouse Square.
November 2012: Repair work begins at Courthouse Square.
March 2013: One of the last remaining lawsuits over Courthouse Square’s botched development is settled. During the past three years, litigation stemming from damages at the Courthouse Square building and transit center collects a total of about $12.5 million. The single largest settlement, about $9.5 million, came from a company that provided property insurance for Courthouse Square.
July 2013: Keizer Transit Center has its grand opening.
July 2013: CherryLift, a paratransit service, updates its policies. The new application process requires an in-person interview to determine eligibility to use CherryLift. Applicants could previously send in applications.
July 2013: The repair project at Courthouse Square is halfway complete.
October 2013: Keizer Transit Center wins The Public Transportation System Innovation Award from Oregon Transit Association.
December 2013: Keizer Transit Center wins The Governor’s Award for Sustainability.
March 2014: Repairs to Courthouse Square are substantially complete.
April 2014: The District and Marion County celebrate the grand re-opening of Courthouse Square. Normal operations resume at the Downtown Transit Center.
April 2014: Courthouse Square has its grand re-opening after a $23 million repair job.
May 2015: Cherriots surveys the public to gauge support for an employer payroll tax to fund transit. Based on the survey, the Board of Directors asks voters to approve a payroll tax on local businesses that could restore Saturday bus service and fund other service improvements.
June 2015: The West Salem Connector, a pilot project to test on-demand bus service in West Salem, makes its debut. The West Salem Connector allows riders to book a ride through a smartphone app or with a phone call.
September 2015: Cherriots makes major changes in its bus routes. More crosstown routes and fewer transfers are intended to reduce travel times for riders.
November 2015: Salem voters reject an employer payroll tax to support transit by a wide margin. The tax of 0.21 percent of total payroll on local businesses would have raised $5 million to expand Cherriots service.
May 2016: The State Employee Bus Pass Program returns. The state-sponsored program provides bus rides for state employees in the Capitol Mall area.
July 2016: Cherriots creates an award-winning marketing campaign by capitalizing on the Pokemon GO craze. To enter a Cherriots contest, Pokemon Go players take screenshots of Pokemon creature lurking at the Downtown Transit Center and bus stops or lounging on buses. The campaign wins a first place AdWheel Award from the American Public Transportation Association for Best Social Media to Increase Ridership.
September 2016: The Board of Directors votes to oppose the city of Salem’s proposal to expand the urban growth boundary to accommodate the proposed third bridge across the Willamette River. A motion to rescind the decision is made at a special board meeting in October but the motion fails because of a tie vote.
January 2017: Cherriots changes multiple bus routes to fix problems with crosstown routes struggling to stay on time. The changes are made after staff monitored the performance of the 2015 Moving Forward service redesign.
July 2017: The State Employee Bus Pass Program ends because the Oregon Legislature decides not to fund the program.
August 2017: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signs House Bill 2017, a landmark transportation funding package. HB 2017 could bring $7 million in its first year to support transit in Marion and Polk counties. Cherriots expects to restore Saturday bus service and make other service improvements sometime in 2019, once state revenue provided by HB 2017 is made available to Cherriots and other transit agencies.
January 2018: Cherriots stops operating Route 2X to Grand Ronde. The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, who paid Cherriots to provide this service in the past, replaced Route 2X with a service operated by Tillamook County Transportation District. The service is called TCTD Route 60X and TCTD Route 70X.
January 2018: The West Salem Connector, an on-demand bus service, is discontinued. The two-year pilot project is replaced with a rerouted Route 16 and new Routes 26 and 27.
September 2019: As a result of funding from House Bill 2017, Saturday service resumes after a 10-year hiatus. Most routes on both Cherriots Local and Cherriots Regional offer service on Saturdays at a lower frequency than weekdays. Later weekday service is added on Cherriots Local as well, with Core Network routes leaving the Downtown Transit Center and Keizer Transit Center for their last trips at 11 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. Additionally, Cherriots Regional routes add weekday trips.
Notes: Sources used for this timeline
Michael Rose, a former Statesman Journal reporter hired by Cherriots, wrote this timeline in January 2018. An archive of scanned newspaper clippings, maintained by Cherriots, was the primary source of information used in this timeline.
The Cherriots news archive contained few stories from 2002 to 2006. Information gleaned from internal Cherriots reports, written by John Whittington, the now retired Director of Transit Development, provided most of the material for the 2002 to 2006 section. Whittington’s reports also filled in details of the Transit Districts’ early years.
Other sources include news posted on the Cherriots website, minutes from the Cherriots Board of Directors meetings, and the Cherriots 2016-17 Annual Report.