News Roundup 4/21/14

Ben Franklin Transit

General Manager Position Offered to Dennis Solensky
In case you missed my updates on Twitter, the search for a new GM is over as the Board of Directors voted to offer the position to Dennis Solensky at the board meeting this month. As of posting this, contract negotiations are still ongoing, but it seems fairly certain that he will be starting by May 15th at the latest.

Yakima Transit

BYD E-Bus Being Tested in May
After spending March at Spokane Transit Authority and April at Ben Franklin Transit, the BYD E-Bus is continuing its tour of Washington at Yakima Transit. As with STA and BFT, BYD is letting them test out the bus free of charge for the whole month. No word yet on when/where it’ll be running, but as all routes congregate downtown at the Yakima Transit Center, it won’t be hard to find.


BFT Selects New General Manager

After spending two hours interviewing the two finalists and then spending four hours in executive session at the board meeting last night, the Ben Franklin Transit Board of Directors selected Dennis Solensky as the new General Manager.

This concludes a long process for BFT, who started this search late last year after former GM Tim Fredrickson submitted his resignation at the December board meeting. Some 84 applications were received, of which about 35 were given a closer look. After whittling it down to a group of 9 candidates, it was further narrowed down to a final two after holding first interviews on Skype.

Solensky brings a lot of experience in transit to the table for BFT. All his previous work in the industry has been with agencies similarly sized to BFT, and his last job at Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority in particular showed exceptional numbers for boosting ridership and patronage. He also has a MBA from Penn State, and holds a reputation with former employees as a team player and an approachable leader.

While the other candidate, Bill Forsythe, did show excellent qualifications as well, I have to say that I think the Board of Directors has made the right decision in offering Dennis Solensky the job, and I look forward to this new chapter at Ben Franklin Transit.


Transit Throwback – Ellensburg Intercity Buses

It’s no secret that intercity bus service in Eastern Washington is not what it used to be. When travelling by bus was much more common, some routes in the region would see as many as 7-8 trips a day. Nowadays, the most frequent services just run twice daily.

Out of every city in Eastern Washington, Ellensburg has always been in the most advantaged position in the intercity bus network. Sitting right on Interstate 90 just on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, every single bus that crosses into Eastern Washington has to pass through the city.

This advertisment from the Ellensburg Daily Record on November 12, 1941 gives us a better idea of just how much service Ellensburg had.

WMCS Ad

You can see immediately that a lot of this service no longer exist today. Perhaps most interesting though is the former location of Ellensburg’s bus depot. Unlike the modern Greyhound stop, which is located on the far western edge of town at a truck stop, the old depot was right in the middle of downtown. Located at the SW corner of Fifth Ave and Pine Street, buses were easily accesible by all residents, including students at Central Washington University which is just a short walk away. The Fifth and Pine depot was later closed on August 25, 1958. For a time, buses stopped in Ellensburg at Antlers Hotel (also located downtown). That didn’t last very long though, as the Antlers Hotel later was destroyed by a massive fire in 1967. After that, Greyhound built a new depot at the NW corner of 8th Ave (now University Way) and Okanogan Street. Presumably, officials with Greyhound were satisfied with that depot for about 30 years, as it wasn’t until 1997 that Greyhound announced the Okanogan Street depot was for sale. Like all the previous stop relocations, residents raised concerns that they would lose their service if a new location couldn’t be found. Three years later, the last move was finally completed as Greyhound officially moved the stop to the Pilot Truck Stop (now Love’s Truck Stop) in February 2000.


News Roundup 4/7/14

Ben Franklin Transit

GM Final Applicants Meet-And-Greet
After former General Manager Tim Fredrickson submitted his resignation in December, the Board of Directors has spent the last few months searching for a replacement while interim GM Ed Frost has kept the agency’s daily operations running. After going through 84 applications, the board narrowed the choices down to a final 2 applicants. On Wednesday, 4/9/14, there will be two “Applicant Receptions,” one at Three Rivers Transit Center at 2:00PM and the other at the BFT Administration Building (MOA) at 7:30PM. Both will be held to give riders, bus operators and staff, and the general public a chance to meet the final choices for BFT’s new General Manager. Both applicants are coming from out of the area, one from Pennsylvania and the other from Texas.

Pullman Transit

Public Hearing for Service Reductions on 4/22
The City Council will be holding a public hearing on 4/22 at 7:00PM to take comments on proposed service reductions for this summer and the 2014-2015 WSU school year. For summer service, Pullman Transit is proposing to cut the Summer Express 2 route, leaving just the Vacation “E” Route, Vacation “I” Route, and Vacation South Route. For the WSU school year, Pullman Transit is proposing to end the Midnight North and Midnight South routes that currently run on Friday and Saturday from 12:30AM-3:00AM, along with the 12:15AM trips on the PM North and PM South routes. If you can’t make the meeting, Pullman Transit can also take comments by calling their customer service line, (509) 332-6535.

Valley Transit

Man Arrested After Attacking Passenger
On March 19th, while riding the bus home from school, a minor was attacked by another passenger. Robert Kreykenbohm was later arrested by Walla Walla Police and charged with 4th degree assault. Video from the bus and additional coverage on this comes from KEPR. In a Facebook comment, a relative of the victim mentioned that they were trying to find out the identity of the woman who tried to get Kreykenbohm away from him. If you have any information regarding that, please contact KEPR.

Yakima Transit

Hopesource Backs Out of Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter Contract
After holding a stakeholder meeting last month to determine the future of the YEC, Hopesource has announced that they are terminating their involvement with the service effective June 15th. Susan K. Grindle, Hopesource’s CEO, said in a press release that Yakima City Manager Kevin O’Rourke made it clear that the city intended to utilize a private contractor to preserve the service. (O’Rourke later stated that he mentioned that only as a possible option.) Currently, Hopesource is involved with the operation of the YEC due to a state law that prohibits Yakima Transit from directly operating the service as it is more than 15 miles outside of city limits. With this annoucement from Hopesource, it is unclear what will happen with the YEC. As previously covered here on Transit 509, the future of the route is still up in the air regardless, but Hopesource terminating their involvement after this summer will make things much more difficult now.


BYD E-Bus Arrives In Tri-Cities

After spending last month up in Spokane on STA bus routes, the BYD E-Bus was delivered to Ben Franklin Transit yesterday afternoon.

BYD E-Bus at MOA Photo Credit: Zachary Ziegler

BYD E-Bus at MOA
Photo Credit: Zachary Ziegler

I first broke the news of this on my Twitter feed, and later in the night local TV station KEPR also had coverage about the bus.

A schedule for where and when the BYD E-Bus will be running this month is still being determined, but keep an eye out here for that information. It’s also worth mentioning again that Ben Franklin Transit already has another electric bus, the ZEPS Bus, in their fleet, so this will make for an interesting side-by-side comparison of the two different technologies.


Modified Empire Builder Schedule Starting 4/15

It’s no secret that the Empire Builder has been running late a lot as of recent. Just last month, the train arrived on time a paltry 12% of the time. A large part of this has to do with the never-ending congestion on the tracks in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, home to the latest oil boom in the US. Weather-related delays, such as the mudslides between Seattle and Everett or the avalanche that cut off Essex MT certainly haven’t helped matters either. Starting April 15th, Amtrak will be instituting a new modified schedule for the Empire Builder, which for now is temporary until further notice.

Overall, the new schedule will see trains in the westbound direction (7/27) serving stops roughly 90 minutes later than the current schedule, and trains in the eastbound direction (8.28) will serve stops roughly 3 hours earlier than the current schedule. Below is a table comparing the current and modified schedules for all stops in Washington in both directions.

Station Current Modified
Train 7
Spokane (Arrive) 1:40AM 3:10AM
Spokane (Depart) 2:15AM 3:45AM
Ephrata 4:22AM 5:52AM
Wenatchee 5:35AM 7:05AM
Leavenworth 6:08AM 7:38AM
Everett 8:38AM 10:08AM
Edmonds 9:10AM 10:40AM
Seattle 10:25AM 11:55AM
Train 27
Spokane (Arrive) 1:40AM 3:10AM
Spokane (Depart) 2:45AM 4:15AM
Pasco 5:35AM 7:05AM
Wishram 7:30AM 9:00AM
Bingen-White Salmon 8:04AM 9:34AM
Vancouver 9:18AM 10:48AM
Portland 10:10AM 11:40AM
Station Current Modified
Train 8
Seattle 4:40PM 1:40PM
Edmonds 5:12PM 2:12PM
Everett 5:39PM 2:39PM
Leavenworth 8:00PM 5:00PM
Wenatchee 8:42PM 5:42PM
Ephrata 9:42PM 6:42PM
Spokane (Arrive) 12:45AM 9:45PM
Spokane (Depart) 1:30AM 10:30PM
Train 28
Portland 4:45PM 1:40PM
Vancouver 5:07PM 2:02PM
Bingen-White Salmon 6:21PM 3:16PM
Wishram 6:55PM 3:50PM
Pasco 8:57PM 5:52PM
Spokane (Arrive) 12:13AM 9:08PM
Spokane (Depart) 1:30AM 10:30PM

It’s hard to say at this point how long this modified schedule will remain in place for the Empire Builder. The 7/27 schedule is essentially taking the delayed arrivals that the train has already been doing for weeks now and making it official. The new 8/28 schedule does present some interesting opportunities, as the train is now a “daylight” service. For example, passengers in Wenatchee will be able to catch a Link Transit bus in most any direction that the agency serves, something that hasn’t been possible with the current 8:42PM arrival. With this modified schedule, station hours at most stops will likely be changing accordingly as well, so keep an eye out for that. Amtrak is pretty good about updating that info online, or you can always call them at 1-800-USA-RAIL.


Transit Throwback – Spokane Bus Stops

Earlier this week, Spokane Transit Authority made the official announcement that they would be starting work on replacing all the old bus stop signs in the area with a completely brand new design. In that announcement, it was mentioned that the bus stops haven’t seen any sort of major update in more than 30 years. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to take a look back through those past 30 years and even beyond.

STS Layover Zone on 1st Ave Photo Credit: Zachary Ziegler

STS Layover Zone on 1st Ave
Photo Credit: Zachary Ziegler

Before STA was established, the city directly ran the predecessor agency Spokane Transit System. The STS name has been gone for more than 30 years now, but a trained eye can catch a couple of remnants from that era in Downtown Spokane, as seen at left.

Before STA took over in 1982, STS made a major change to downtown bus stops in 1980 by instituting a new color-coding system. (“New bus fare hikes, stop changes approved” Spokane Daily Chronicle November 25, 1980) Rather than having every single bus stop every block, STS created a sort of interchange hub in the middle of downtown, where every bus would have their main loading zone  next to other routes, which made it easier to transfer between routes. 9 different colors were used to differentiate the different bus stops. It’s unclear how long this system lasted though. However, it is worth noting that a small remnant remains today with the current color-coding system used for individual route schedules.

When STA finally did take over, a lot of new routes to destinations previously unserved began as well. One of those connections included a route running from the South Hill to East Central. To denote the launch of that new connection in May 1983, STA made the new bus stops much more visible by tying blue, green, and white balloons (the same colors of the livery) to them. (“Balloons to mark bus route” Spokane Chronicle May 12, 1983)

STA Bus Stop on Route 94 Photo Credit: Zachary Ziegler

STA Bus Stop on Route 94
Photo Credit: Zachary Ziegler

It was around that same time in 1983 that the plain blue bus stop signs we’re so familiar with started to pop up. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact timeline on this, but an old blurb from March that year in The Spokesman-Review mentions the installation of these new signs on East Sprague between Division and Havana as part of an effort to ease traffic congestion.

The bus stops signs didn’t get much mention in the press for the next several years. In fact, it wasn’t until 1998 that bus stops became a major talking issue in the Spokane area, as that was when STA initiated a major service revision and moved most routes off neighborhood streets and on to major arterials. Many riders complained that they would now have to walk farther to catch their bus, not just because it was running down the arterial but because the stops were further apart as well. (Most stops were now spaced about every 2-3 blocks at this time.) One letter to the editor even went so far as to denounce the new stops as “perilous.”

It was also in 1998 that STA put out a bid for new bus stop signs, as noted in the legal section of The Spokesman-Review in the April 24th paper. Having never been to Spokane myself back in that time, I’m left to assume that these were for replacement signs and not for a new design. (Any long time Spokane residents and/or riders, please feel free to correct me or add any input to this.)

Finally, we come back to the new bus stop signs.

New STA Bus Stop on 29th Ave Photo Credit: Karl Otterstrom (@PedestrianMan)

New STA Bus Stop on 29th Ave
Photo Credit: Karl Otterstrom (@PedestrianMan)

There’s still some blue on the signs, but it’s not very much. Instead, these new signs use the same colors as STA’s livery, incorporating the same distinguishable swooping design. It’s a clever move on STA’s part, as no other entity uses colors or graphics close to their design. The white base alone makes the signs so much more noticeable, especially from afar. You may also notice a bus stop number on the sign, which is a new feature for STA bus stops. That number will be used in the near future when STA debuts their real-time bus tracking system. A specific timeline for finishing the installation of these new bus stop signs hasn’t been mentioned, but given how fast the signs are popping up already, I think it’d be fair to say all signs should be in place by the start of summer.


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