After a few years of steady but slow progress for Pierce Transit (PT), things are beginning to accelerate in a positive direction. After hemorrhaging service hours in the recession – with most routes cut to hourly service and span of service barely extending past dinnertime – PT is back with a bold new service proposal that restores a basic functioning grid of half-hourly service for most of Tacoma. It does so on the back of some route consolidation, reducing overall coverage, but while making remaining services far more useful. For a comprehensive review of the restructure proposal, check out Chris Karnes’ blog Tacoma Transit.
The two alternatives would use newly available service hours in one of two ways. Alternative 1 would bring the current network up to peak 30-minute headways while retaining hourly off-peak frequency and dismal span of service. Alternative 2 would bring most routes back up to 30-minute all day service, and extend span of service to 10pm. Route consolidation would be most strongly felt in Tacoma’s posh north end, including the Proctor District, where a spaghetti of hourly routes (10, 11, 13, 14, 16) would be consolidated into a half-hourly grid of Routes 10, 11, and 16. Service would also be rationalized in East Tacoma and along South Tacoma Way, straightening routes and better coordinating their schedules. If you are PT rider, you have 3 upcoming open houses to attend and make your voice heard.
In addition, PT recently announced a small $200k grant to partner with Uber, Lyft, and/or taxi companies to extend the reach of transit. The “Mobility on Demand Sandbox” grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will allow Pierce Transit to:
Coordinate with Transportation Networking Companies and/or taxi companies to coordinate on-demand rides within certain areas though the use of app-based technology. The rides, funded by this grant, will get people to bus stops, select transit centers or Park & Rides, or – from select locations – to a rider’s final destination after Pierce Transit’s service hours.
In low-demand areas, fixed route transit sometimes just isn’t viable. This was shown with painful clarity by PT’s short-lived “Community Connector” program in Fife, Milton, and Edgewood, where Routes 503 and 504 averaged less than 1 rider per hour and costs per rider ranged from $100-$140 (page 24-25). If this new partnership succeeds, it would represent one of the better ways for transit and Uber-like services to partner for the common good. A partial or full subsidy of these rides would be an order of magnitude cheaper than the low frequency shuttles, and offer more convenient point-to-point service as well.
So things are looking up in Pierce County. By this time next year, let’s hope that they have a solid local bus network, an innovative on-demand partnership, and a successful Sound Transit 3 coming their way.