Before I begin getting into the details about bus service, I want to do a quick follow-up on a particular item I wrote about in my first post regarding the study that WSDOT is doing in the Fort Lewis area. In there I used quite some strong language in saying that "there is mention of transit, but in a hypocritical way". I did give some consideration towards this strong language before I published that post, but it was perhaps too strong and offended some people working on the project. For this I apologize. Nonetheless, I won't back down on my position that transit isn't being given enough consideration in this study or in general through the corridor. I will make a number of arguments on this point in this post and the next post about rail service in the area. So now that that's out of the way, let's get down to the details about bus service.
As noted before in the opening post about the corridor, there exist 2 options for traveling by bus between Tacoma and Olympia, either the Olympia Express service operated by Pierce Transit and Intercity Transit, or Greyhound. Since we're on the topic there is also the Sound Transit 592 that makes some express peak hour trips between DuPont ,Lakewood and Seattle in the morning and afternoon. Other than that, DuPont has no midday or evening service aside from the single round-trip on the 207.
According to a quick search I did, it appears that on a typical day, Greyhound has four trips either direction per day. The Olympia Express on the other hand has 24 trips both directions on a typical weekday. On the weekends, though the Olympia Express is much less with 9 round trips on Saturday and only 5 round trips on Sunday. Below is a breakdown of the departure times of each trips during the weekdays:
|Departure Time||Number of Trips|
So with today's service it is primarily a peak commuter bus service with a very sporadic schedule through the rest of the day and on weekends. Evening service is the least convenient. On weekdays the last bus leaves Olympia at 7:30pm and then leaves Tacoma at 8:40pm and on weekends it's 7pm and 8:03pm from Tacoma Mall respectively.
However, these current service levels are in jeopardy given the current transit funding crisis both at Pierce Transit and at Intercity Transit. In the pessimistic scenario, Pierce Transit is considering eliminating all of it's Olympia service which is about 1/3 of all weekday buses on the route while Intercity Transit is looking into reducing weekend service, but it isn't clear by how much. In the optimistic scenario, Pierce Transit would provide some additional commuter service, but only between Lakewood Station and Olympia. Intercity has an optimistic and really optimistic scenario (an increase in the sales tax of 0.2% and 0.3% respectively). In both of them, there is better service on the weekday bus between Tacoma and Olympia.
The WSDOT Fort Lewis Study
As mentioned earlier, I wrote quite strongly about the study's transit analysis. My concerns come down to two basic points which I have already communicated to WSDOT.
1. The study area is in a bottleneck of statewide, if not national, if not international significance. Thus studying the area from a localized perspective of the JBLM area without taking into consideration the interactions of the greater regions of Puget Sound and Thurston County and even Portland to some extent leaves considerable room for uncertainty in the forecast.
2. The corridor is multi-modal, but highway analysis dominates the study.
I'll go into detail on this second point. As the study progressed, transit was not considered as a major player. The most mention of transit was in the level 2 screening analysis (pdf). In there, the study analyzes Sounder to DuPont ridership and forecasts bus ridership between Olympia and Tacoma. The conclusion of this analysis is stated as follows:
Without these transit services in place, an additional 600 people would be trying to use this section of I-5. However, bus routes must also use the same freeway lanes as single occupant vehicles. To expect an even larger shift to buses may be unrealistic until such time that there is travel time benefit over single occupant vehicles.However, it must be said that providing public transit on the base is a challenge not to mention service that goes on and off the base. The study does take into account a lot of the localized impacts on transit service and also the ability for buses to move in an efficient manner given the new configurations in the study.
Is it too much to ask for an alternative focusing primarily on transit? After all, even the Cross-Base Highway had an alternatives analysis study with a Light Rail alternative. Yet, with this study in terms of inter-regional transit on I-5, a better bus route or routes were not reported as analyzed due to unquantified travel time penalties. At least the Cross-Base Highway study was able to quantitatively rule out Light Rail.
What would good bus service look like through this corridor? Today, the total ridership combined on all Tacoma-Olympia express buses ranks in the middle of the Pierce Transit system. Perhaps the service levels on the express from Olympia to Tacoma could be increased. If the service was developed to similar standards of frequency and span of service as the 590-series would more people ride?
Also, how about throwing in a stop on the Olympia express at DuPont? In doing this, the ride would take a bit longer, but in exchange DuPont would have more bus service than just from Sound Transit. And how about putting some flyer stops at some interchange exits near the base?
What kind of bus service would you readers like to see between Tacoma and Olympia?