It’s not exactly surprising that Ramiro “RJ” Navarro wants to advocate for veteran accessibility as part of his new role as Keizer’s representative on the Salem Area Mass Transit District (Cherriots) board of directors.
“The first thing I would like to work on is reducing fares for veterans,” Navarro said. “Cherriots doesn’t offer a discount for veterans right now,” Navarro said. Navarro is the veterans program manager for Project ABLE, a group that offers peer support for those experiencing mental health difficulties and medical conditions.
“One of the big things we do through Project ABLE is connect those with mental health and addiction problems to community resources. Having a discounted fare for a group like veterans reduces one more barrier to people finding help,” he said.
Navarro was nominated for appointment to the board by Gov. Kate Brown and confirmed by senators in their most recent legislative session. Representatives to the Cherriots board were elected until 2019. Brown proposed, and the legislature approved, appointments to align the district’s structure with similar agencies in Portland and Eugene. He is replacing Colleen Busch who was elected twice and served as a director for six years.
“Colleen did a lot of hard work and I am hoping to build on that,” Navarro said.
Navarro wants to pick up where Busch left off in advocating for a greener fleet of Cherriots vehicles. In 202o, Cherriots received a $3.5 million federal grant to replace five of its oldest buses with battery-powered models that reduce emissions and lower operating costs.
“Those are going to be on Route 11, which means one of the charging stations will be at the Keizer Transit Center [in Keizer Station],” Navarro said. Route 11 runs between Keizer and South Salem using Lancaster Drive.
Navarro has two route changes he plans to advocate for. The first is extending Route 14 to Keizer Rapids Parks to make it more accessible for visitors without transportation or those who need assistance. Navarro recently coordinated a kayaking event at the park and one disabled attendee used Cherry LIFT to attend.
“I would like to see us offer more opportunities for Cherry LIFT out in the [Santiam] Canyon area,” he said. “We have a lot of veterans out that way who struggle with mental health, who have trouble filing disability claims and who need to access medical appointments. They are ideal candidates for those services.”
He is already researching grant options, intended to support rural veterans, that might fund the canyon expansion.
Other Cherriots board appointees this year were Sara Duncan, a longtime Salem resident who manages Sassy Onion Catering; María Cecilia Hinojos Pressey, a current board member who works as operations manager for farmworkers union PCUN.