Route 11: Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter

On Monday, 11/28/11, a new bus route will start running. And this is a pretty big bus route. For the first time, the cities of Yakima and Ellensburg will be linked together by fixed-route transit service.

For several years (maybe even longer), there have been multiple proposals to link these two cities via transit. As it stands currently, the only non-car options are Greyhound (2 trips each way per day, costs $11-18 each way) and Bellair Charter’s “Airporter Shuttle” (5 trips each way per day, costs $10 each way). A non-profit organization based in Ellensburg, HopeSource, also has a demand-response/scheduled transit service that includes a trip to and from Yakima each Tuesday. If I recall correctly, fares weren’t collected on this service, though there was a “suggested donation.” However, for the most part, all these services are largely inconvenient for those needing to travel between the two cities. Greyhound is especially inconvenient, as it stops at a truck stop on the edge of town.

For many, many reasons, this new bus route will be a huge positive impact for residents of Yakima and Ellensburg, as well as many of the other neighboring communities. The bus route itself will run 8 times per day in each direction, 5 days per week (Monday to Friday), and the fare will be $3 each way. Another option for riders is to buy a monthly pass, at a cost of $100. The pass itself will allow the holder unlimited rides on the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter, as well as all other Yakima Transit routes and the Central Transit bus route in Ellensburg.

To pay for this service, Yakima Transit was able to get a grant from WSDOT, which will cover half of the total cost for the service, estimated to be $528,000 through the end of 2013. The other half of the cost will be split evenly, with Yakima Transit paying 25% of the total, and HopeSource paying the other 25% (though HopeSource’s share will actually be paid via a share of student transportation fees already collected by Central Washington University). Under the previous proposal, Yakima Transit was to operate 4 round-trips per day and HopeSource was to operate the other 4 round-trips. Due to state law, Yakima Transit cannot operate the service as it is defined (legal mumbo jumbo…), so all the driving and staffing will be done by HopeSource. As far as I understand, existing 15-passenger cutaway vans owned by HopeSource will be used initially in the operation of this route, but there is the possibility of upgrading to 30-passenger cutaway vans if there is enough demand for the service.

Now, one of the most interesting things about this new bus route (to me at least) is the bus route itself. The route does something that no bus route in Eastern Washington (except for Spokane) does, and that’s instituting “limited stops.” Along the entire length of the route, the bus only has 7 stops. Yakima has 3 stops, located at Yakima Transit Center, Yakima Valley Community College, and Perry Technical Institute (with the Yakima Airport across the street). Ellensburg also has just 3 stops, located at the Super 1, Safeway, and the CWU Student Union and Recreation Center (SURC). There will also be one stop in between the two cities at the Yakima Firing Center Park-and-Ride, just off Interstate 82 in Selah. If a rider needs to get to another destination in Yakima or Ellensburg, they can use their ticket from the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter to transfer onto any of the Yakima Transit routes or the Central Transit route.

If you saw my tweets on this new bus route last night, then you saw that I brought up the subject of the Epic Transit Journey again. (For a refresher, I recommend reading this previous post.) At a quick glance last night, it didn’t seem like this new bus route would make any major change to the Tri-Cities to Seattle trip. And as I look further into it today, it still seems to be that way. The total cost for the trip itself can now be reduced by a whopping $1, though the overall length of time spent on the buses is still the same. But, the amount of time spent on “real” transit (since using the “Airporter Shuttle” between Yakima and North Bend is breaking the rules a bit…) is extended, so it’s a win win.

Now for the time being, this bus route be strictly classified as a “trial service,” which means there’s a possibility of it ending after 2013. Once the grant money from WSDOT runs out, Yakima Transit and HopeSource will have to start splitting the cost right down the middle, which could put a potential strain on their finances. However, I certainly hope that this will be a service that we’ll see running for a long time.

More information:
Map – http://www.ci.yakima.wa.us/services/transit/YEroute3.pdf
Schedule – http://www.ci.yakima.wa.us/services/transit/YEschedule%206.pdf

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