James McCraw, Reporter/Office Manager
Sitting on the dimly lit bus, waiting at the South Hill Mall Transit Center, there’s a man sitting across the aisle from a college student. He’s in his early ‘60s, wearing an old, worn out cowboy hat. The student sees him on the bus every morning, completing the crossword from the local newspaper, but leaving the rest of the paper for the driver every day.
Numerous workers and students check notifications on their phones, sip their coffees and wait patiently to depart. A mother consoles her child, frustrated by the lack of movement of the bus, waiting at the station. The student sits quietly in his seat, his backpack next to him, blocking anybody from sitting next to him, watching the latest episode of his newest favorite show on Netflix, knowing that the bus ride is his last bit of escape from the real world.
Every weekday morning, that student makes the almost hour long trek from his apartment complex off of Golden Given Road to Pierce College Puyallup each day because, along with 22 percent of transit riders, riding the bus to and from various schools across Pierce County each day is the only means of transportation.
The particular route that gets to Pierce, route 4, leaves the South Hill Mall Transit Center twice an hour and only runs from Pierce until 8 p.m., making it nearly impossible to take evening classes, or commit to nighttime or weekend activities. On average, 68 people take the bus to the college and about 77 people a day leave the college bus stop. That’s probably just enough to keep the route going, but not enough impact to see many changes to it.
In September, Pierce Transit was able to invest 15,000 more hours of transit time thanks to a budget expansion.
“Pierce Transit held three open houses as well as solicited feedback online about where riders would like to see us improve service,” Rebecca Japhet, communications manager for Pierce Transit, said. “Of the nearly 1,000 comments received, the top two responses, by far, were to increase frequency of service (the bus would come more often), and increase span of service on weekdays to extend later into the evening.”
Japhet mentioned that based on that feedback, the company determined how to better allocate the expanded hours. For route 4, two trips were added from Lakewood Towne Center, one of the ends where the route originates, and one more trip was added from South Hill Mall, leaving at 8:45 p.m.
When the recession hit, Pierce Transit lost a substantial amount of funding. In fact, 73 percent of their funding comes from state sales tax revenue. The Transit had to reduce its services by one-third. Now that funding has returned to the Transit authority, they’re using these analysis surveys and open houses to better fund the routes and use their hours accordingly.
Japhet says that she’s aware of the amount of responses that were given to the Transit Authority regarding route 4, but she’s not currently aware of the possibility for night or weekend trips to the college.
“This is something we have looked at in the past,” Japhet said. “Pierce Transit’s weekend service is more limited than weekday service, and it has the least demand, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile for those who would want to use it. It may be something on the table for the future, depending on resources.”
What frequent riders of the Transit system can do is stay involved. The Pierce Transit website has a method to contact the Transit Authority with questions or concerns. The public can also attend their open board meetings which are held on the second Monday of every month, at their training center located at 3720 96th St. SW in Lakewood, and usually begin at 4 p.m.
“Pierce Transit staff and the consulting firm that helped us conduct the analysis will present the findings to the Board of Commissioners in mid-October and hold public open houses in October to gather public feedback about the various options for improving service,” Japhet said. “We expect the board to finalize any new, changed or improved routes by the end of the year.”
Hopefully the changes that are made at the end of the year will help other riders expand their lives and make for greater opportunities here at Pierce.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost
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