Is the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter Illegal?

Early this morning, I saw a tweet on my feed which caught my eye.

@Yakima_Herald: State rules Yakima-Ellensburg bus service is legal http://bit.ly/A9uS6z

Suffice to say, I had questions. So, I read on…

Apparently, since the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter launched service, one of it’s competitors has made the argument that the service illegally overlapped his. That competitor is Richard Johnson, owner of Central Washington Airporter (part of Bellair Charters, provider of the “Airporter Shuttle” service). He claims the subsidy that WSDOT gave to Yakima Transit/HopeSource allows “the agencies [to use] taxpayers dollars to undercut private industry.”

However, Mr. Johnson’s argument is moot because of a law enacted in 2009. It states that the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission is excused from regulating such services if they are found to be in the public interest and are funded by the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT). I’d say from the hefty ridership that the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter has seen since first starting (it’s been running two buses side by side on some trips for additional capacity), the public interest has definitely been met.

In the comments on a previous Yakima Herald’s story on this matter, someone made an interesting point: “I would think that it depends on the schedule each service is offering. I think the local guy has his nose out of joint that he didn’t think to expand his service until the city dove in and took the chance to try it. Had it not been a resounding success, we would never be hearing about this suit now.” I’m inclined to agree with the commenter. I don’t think Mr. Johnson would be making such a fuss about this if the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter wasn’t doing so well.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think I have anything against Mr. Johnson or his company. I’ve always had a good experience when using CWA’s services (which also happen to include the Grape Line and the Gold Line), and I wish them nothing but success. However, in the case of the Yakima-Ellensburg intercity corridor, the previously existing bus services (Airporter Shuttle and Greyhound) weren’t cutting it, so the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter helped fill that gap and increased travel between the two cities. In the long run, that benefits everyone, including Mr. Johnson.

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