PORT ANGELES — The Clallam Transit System Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a motion directing staff to develop a plan to be presented that would eliminate fares for one year starting on Jan. 1.
The zero-fare policy would only apply to the agency’s fixed route, paratransit and dial-a-ride services; the Strait Shot service to Bainbridge Island and the Hurricane Ridge Shuttle would not be included in the program.
The goal of eliminating fares is to increase transit ridership and alleviate the financial burden on those who rely it for transportation.
The vote last Wednesday was a follow-up to the board’s request at its July meeting that General Manager Jim Fetzer seek input from other state transit agencies with zero fare systems and from Clallam Transit drivers about their experiences on zero-fare routes during the Clallam County Fair Aug. 17-19.
Fetzer said ridership during the three days was about 20 percent higher than the same days the previous week.
Responses to both surveys were inconclusive, Fetzer said. Four of the eight agencies and 18 of 62 Clallam transit drivers responded to the surveys.
Nonetheless, there was a general sense from agencies that zero fares could result in an increase in ridership and decrease in disputes, Fetzer said.
Operations Manager Jason McNickle said not collecting fares would eliminate one of the biggest sources of friction between operators and riders.
“It seems to get rid of fare disputes, which is the most kind that we get,” he said.
Some Clallam Transit drivers reported the policy would make their jobs easier because it would eliminate having to explain fares, figure out discounts and hasten boarding. Others reported that having no fares would make their jobs more difficult because it can attract people who ride around for no reason and exhibit disruptive behavior.
Some of the 18 Clallam Transit drivers were against eliminating fares and some recommended raising them.
Commissioner Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, who participated via Zoom, asked whether Clallam Transit had a policy requiring passengers to have a destination so they could not ride on a bus all day.
“The policy is you have to get off at the end of the route, and then you can get back on when the bus goes back into service,” Fetzer said.
Riders currently have to pay a fare to reboard, which they would not be required to do with a zero-fare system. However, they would still need to disembark and wait to board again.
Commissioner Mike French said that while he supports a zero-fare plan for a year-long tryout, he doesn’t believe it is the most effective way in the long run to encourage more people to use public transit.
“This isn’t going get us a big bump in ridership,” French said. “What will provide us with a bump in ridership is new routes.”
The popularity of the Hurricane Ridge shuttle continued to fuel transit ridership and revenue in August. Limited personal vehicle access to Hurricane Ridge this summer due to issues related to the day lodge fire has diverted visitors to using the shuttle.
Finance Manager Cherie Huxtable said fare collection for August was about $16,000 more than average. McNickle reported the shuttle had a total of 8,145 riders for a total of 21,676 since service began June 27.
“The park actually had to ask to slow down,” McNickle said. “We had to turn people away.”
The agency will waive fares on fixed routes, paratransit and dial-a-ride services (but not the Strait Shot) on Oct. 12-13 in celebration of its 43rd anniversary on Oct. 13. Fetzer said he would use the opportunity to collect data on ridership and survey drivers and bring that information back to the board at its next meeting Oct. 18.
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.