PORT TOWNSEND — In a special meeting on long-range goals, the Jefferson Transit Authority board discussed how to entice people onto public buses — and where passengers want to go once they’re on board.
Jefferson County Commissioners Kate Dean, Greg Brotherton and Heidi Eisenhour and Port Townsend City Council member Ariel Speser attended a meeting last week in which they heard presentations on the transit authority’s online open house earlier this spring.
Daniel Dye and Aaron Gooze of Fehr & Peers, a consulting firm hired to run the open house, delivered their findings.
Input from 182 respondents included a ranking of which “target service concepts” are most wanted among would-be riders.
On top: a bus to take people to and from the Kingston ferry terminal, where they can catch the fast ferry to Seattle.
An online public meeting on that topic is set for 3 p.m. Wednesday via Jeffersontransit.com.
The session will be given over to the agency’s proposal for a pilot Kingston route — which, agency officials have said, could start as soon as this summer.
Jefferson Transit conducted a survey in February and March to gather input on when and how often people would use such a bus, and hundreds responded.
Unlike passengers on the rest of Jefferson Transit’s buses, riders on the Kingston connection would pay a fare, finance manager Sara Crouch has said, since starting the new route will be costly.
Meantime, on all other fixed routes, fares will stay free through June 30; face masks and social distancing continue to be required on all buses.
In the online open house, respondents ranked two other desired services: After the Kingston route in first place, later evening buses were second most wanted; Sunday bus service ranked third.
Dean and Eisenhour both wondered aloud, however, why Jefferson Transit’s existing routes don’t have more riders. The agency has buses covering Port Townsend and provides connections across Jefferson County.
Riders also can take Jefferson buses to Poulsbo to connect with Kitsap Transit or Sequim, where they can catch Clallam Transit buses.
Transit still struggles with people not wanting to try the bus service, Dean said, while Eisenhour noted that, in the wake of the pandemic, would-be riders are unsure about getting back on board.
“I’m amazed,” added Dean, that “in this city full of environmentalists, how seldom I see people walking, biking or riding the bus … I would really love to understand what those barriers are,” so that policymakers can address them.
Cindy Jayne and Scott Walker of Local 20/20, the sustainability nonprofit organization based in Jefferson County, also participated in the discussion of transit expansion in and around the county.
In their presentation on the benefits of high-quality public transit, the pair noted that good transit service is powerfully attractive for young people, and they said this community needs them to stay vibrant.
People younger than 40 tend to prefer walking, bicycling and transit riding to driving cars, they added.
When commuters use public transit instead of driving their own vehicles, they play a role in reducing greenhouse gases, Local 20/20’s report noted, and that means they’re taking local action against global climate change.
Yet this country’s public policies and funding have long supported driving one’s own car, Walker said.
Jayne and Walker also cited one of the barriers they see to greater use of Jefferson Transit: People who want to load their bicycles onto the bus — to skip their cars entirely — worry there won’t be room for them.
Eisenhour showed up at a bus stop a few times to find her bus’ bike rack already full. And Walker hesitates to take his bike onto the bus for fear there won’t be space for it when it comes time to return home.
It only takes one instance of being left off the bus, Walker said, for word to get around the bicycling community that taking the bus doesn’t work.
John Bender, Jefferson Transit’s fleet and facilities maintenance manager, spoke with the beginning of a solution.
He’s just ordered seven new bike racks, each with space for three bikes, to retrofit all of the buses that don’t yet have three-position racks.
The racks were shipped Friday, Bender said in an interview, and they should arrive in a few days.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.