Transit Throwback – Downtown Yakima Trolley Bus

Every now and then, a new proposal for a downtown transit circulator comes up in Yakima. Most recent was the idea of reintroducing streetcar service on Yakima Avenue using the heritage streetcars currently owned by Yakima Valley Trolleys. In the past, there’s even been proposals to add new lines just about everywhere in the city, from the former mill site just northeast of downtown or the SunDome at the Yakima County Fairgrounds, or even a proposal to run a commuter-service along the line between Selah and Yakima. Usually with downtown circulator proposals, most cities propose running them with “replica trolley” buses, and Yakima was no exception to that trend when they tried it in the early 1990’s.

Yakima Trolley Bus Photo Credit: AP/The Spokesman Review (6/8/1991)

Yakima Trolley Bus
Photo Credit: AP/The Spokesman Review (6/8/1991)

Starting operations in the first week of June 1991, the trolleys ran on two routes in Downtown Yakima. One route served Yakima Avenue directly, while the other weaved along side streets in the area connecting riders to the main shopping destinations on Yakima Avenue. To start the service, the city spent $109,000 each on four new “replica trolley” buses, along with an additional $60,000 to promote the service to residents and visitors. Unlike conventional Yakima Transit routes, the bus operators on the trolley service had special uniforms that among other things included a derby hat and a bowtie. The service charged no fares, and riders could hop on and off at multiple stops along Yakima Avenue, along with stops at parking lots near the downtown shopping areas.

Of course, the service was not without controversy. Originally backed with unanimous support from the city council, it quickly became a lightning rod for criticism. Residents questioned why the city was spending nearly $400,000 just to operate the service for the first year when Yakima Transit routes already ran in the area, and merchants outside of downtown were upset about the “favoritism” the city was showing to downtown merchants with the service. Support for the trolley service started to erode soon after that.

Surprisingly, the trolley made it past the first year of operations. In fact, it continued running until the end of 1994, when the city decided to finally pull the plug. Bill Schultz, then the transit manager for the city, said: “Essentially, the decision to drop trolley service was based on this: “Trolleys are not a basic service. They are downtown people movers. This is not an essential.”

It was around this same time that Spokane Transit Authority was getting ready to launch their “replica trolley” service between the newly opened Plaza and the North Bank area just north of downtown. (This is the service that now operates as Route 1.) One local journalist proposed having STA buy the buses from Yakima, but by then they had already secured their own buses for the service. Yakima later sold their buses by sealed bid.

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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.