Clallam Transit’s zero-fare program off to successful start

Ridership is up and problems are down, general manager says

PORT ANGELES — Clallam Transit’s zero-fare pilot program that began in January has boosted ridership numbers and reduced ridership issues, Executive Director Jim Fetzer told board members.

“As expected, we saw increases in all of our services,” he said Wednesday.

The one-year program eliminated fares on buses operating on fixed route schedules, as well as Clallam Connect, Interlink and Dial-a- Ride.

Fares are still required for the Strait Shot to the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal and the Hurricane Ridge Shuttle.

The board requested quarterly updates when it approved the zero-fare program last October.

Fetzer reporter that fixed-route ridership during the first quarter of this year was 34 percent higher than last year; Clallam Connect paratransit service was 28 percent higher; Sequim Interlink was 102 percent higher; and Forks Interlink was 156 percent higher.

During the first three months of the year, the agency transported a total of 196,250 passengers — a 35 percent increase from 2023, when it transported 145,217.

“The concern was that we were going to have problems on the buses and we still have problems with customers once in a while, but a lot of those were interactions with paying fare and those have gone away,” Fetzer said.

The agency has had to increase services to meet demand for Clallam Connect, the agency’s door-to-door program for elderly and disabled persons, he said.

“It’s something we’re going to have to keep an eye on because the system is getting busier and busier, and it may be something we have to address in the future,” Fetzer said.

Demand for Interlink, the on-demand ride service in Forks and Sequim, also is high. Expanding the boundaries of where the service is offered in Sequim is being considered, Fetzer said.

Finance Manager Cherie Huxtable reminded commissioners the Move Ahead Washington grant that supports the zero-fare program — and before that, the free fare program for riders 18 and younger — is funded by the state’s 2021 Climate Commitment Act (CCA). Move Ahead Washington funding would disappear if voters approve Initiative 2117 to repeal the CCA on the November ballot.

The 22 vans in Clallam Transit’s rideshare fleet soon will be equipped with dash cameras and a telematics system that will collect audio and video inside vehicles and track their speed, mileage, location and maintenance schedule. Fixed-route and paratransit vehicles already have been outfitted with the equipment as part of a pilot program.

One of the goals for using telematics is to improve road safety by detecting dangerous driving habits, Huxtable said. The system sends real-time alerts of excessive speed, erratic driving and hard breaking to the transit system.

Unsafe driving has been a particular problem on state Highway 112, Huxtable and Fetzer said.

“We get complaints of, ‘Your van was riding my tail all the way on 112 and I was going 70 [mph],’” Huxtable said.

The information that is gathered also could be used in case the van is involved in a traffic collision.

Some board members expressed concerns about capturing audio of passengers’ private conversations. There are about 200 users in the rideshare groups.

“It is a public vehicle, but it is kind of a private space,” board member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said. “I think it’s important that we notify people in the contract that they sign exactly what ‘telematics’ means and they’re being recorded.”

It is important that rideshare groups be made aware how the data would be stored, how long it would be stored and who would have access to it, he said.

Maintenance Manager Gary Abram said staff would not monitor the audio and video unless there was a good reason to do so.

“We’re not going to listen to people’s conversations, but in the event that something happened, then we can go back and listen to that recording,” Abrams said.

The board unanimously approved the purchase of a three-year, $75,000 Motive telematics contract with the recommendation that it consider the suggestions raised during discussion.

In other items, Kelsi Beale was honored as the transit system’s 2023 employee of the year. Beale was hired in June 2021 as a paratransit operator and is now a fixed-route operator, but she also learned dispatch and worked in customer service when the department was short-staffed.

For the third year in a row, Clallam Transit received the 2023 Safety Star Award for mid-size transportation agencies from the Washington State Transit Insurance Pool. The award recognizes agencies that maintain stable and impressive safety records based on vehicle liability losses relative to the miles traveled. The $3,500 award will be divided among Clallam Transit’s employees.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsuladailynews.com.

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