Transit agency widening reach

Free fares one possibility considered

Kevin Gallacci

Kevin Gallacci

PORT ANGELES — Clallam Transit is preparing for its future, moving toward more nighttime service in Port Angeles.

Funded mostly by sales taxes and 11.7 percent from fares, the transportation benefit district is laying plans to expand bus runs in 2022, negotiating with the state Department of Transportation for a park-and-ride lot in Sequim with a park-and-ride lot on its way just east of Port Angeles, and it may one day consider offering fare-free service, General Manager Kevin Gallacci said Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, Clallam Transit may decide to have fare-free service, or we may continue with our current fares,” Gallacci said at the Clallam County Economic Development Council’s “Coffee Chat” Zoom meeting hosted by Executive Director Colleen McAleer.

“I’m not advocating it; it’s just part of the process of looking at the fares,” he said Thursday, adding he would favor adjusting fares according to inflation rather than offering free fares on any routes.

At the EDC meeting, Gallacci presented the draft results of a Transit Operational Analysis that calls for boosting transit service.

The transit board has pledged to increase the 2022 budget by $600,000 annually under the moderate-scenario plan offered by the study’s author, Seattle-based Walker Consultants.

“As we are now, today, that’s our plan moving forward,” Gallacci said in an interview following his presentation.

Gallacci and the agency’s Service Review Committee of Clallam Transit employees will review the plan, which will be subject to public comment and final transit board approval.

It includes a 10 percent increase in vehicle service hours, implements limited on-call “microtransit” dollar-ride service in Forks that would expand in Sequim, adds new Route 12 service to the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation area and increases frequency of the Gateway Transit Center-Laird’s Corner run.

Service would be added until 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Port Angeles Routes 20, 22, 24 and 26 with extended 30-minute frequency until 9 p.m. on the Route 30 U.S. Highway 101 Port Angeles-Sequim Commuter that links the two cities.

The Commuter carries 15-20 passengers an hour, according to the study.

“In the morning, we see a lot of people coming in from Sequim, but the volume actually is heaviest mid-morning and mid-day, when we have a lot of people shopping and traveling back and forth between the cities,” Operations Manager Jim Fetzer said during Gallacci’s presentation.

The transit system is 75 percent funded by sales tax revenues, which consist of a 0.6 percent sales tax that the agency can expand to 0.9 percent and which generates $1.4 million for each 0.1 percent collected.

Another 12 percent of revenue is generated from federal and state operating grants and 11.7 percent from fares.

Clallam Transit was preparing for service decreases in 2021, Gallacci said.

Then it received $4.4 million from the Coronovirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and $7.5 million from the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

“Our sales tax actually stayed very stable in Clallam County,” Gallacci said.

“Actually, it was higher than we had budgeted, so we are using these funds to support the operation, and then these excess sales taxes are going in to build our reserves.”

Reserves are at $13.2 million that will grow to $17.2 million by 2022, Gallacci said.

“We owe it to the public, I believe, our customers, to put these funds in additional services back on the street and utilize these,” he said.

Gallacci said he is trying to secure property off River Road on the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 101 where the off-ramp is located on 4.8 acres in a field owned by the state Department of Transportation, directly across from Applebee’s, that is being held for use by Clallam Transit.

“I’m negotiating with WSDOT right now on what we can do to secure that property and improve that area,” he said.

The agency is putting together a feasibility study on the cost and usage of the parcel that is expected to be completed in the next few months.

The study also will include a review of a potential park-and-ride location on a Clallam County-owned parcel in the Deer Park area east of Port Angeles.

“That’s a spot held for us for a park-and-ride as well,” Gallacci said.

“I’m really motivated to get some additional park-and-rides for us at each end of the two communities.”

Gallacci said the Strait Shot bus to the Bainbridge Island state ferry terminal might be staged at Deer Park.

“The dynamics may change on how we serve the Sequim area,” he added. “Any time we can keep a large, heavy-duty bus out of running through downtown that just increases the time periods and stuff and efficiencies.”

According to the Walker Consultants analysis, the 123 Strait Shot was the third least-used Clallam Transit route with five passengers served per hour but more than the 16 Neah Bay and 52 Diamond Point runs.

The 22 Port Angeles Lincoln-Peabody streets bus was the most heavily used followed by the 20 Peninsula College-Olympic Medical Center route.

The operational costs per passenger were the highest for the Neah Bay and Diamond Point routes, exceeding $50 a person, while the higher-population-density Lincoln-Peabody and college-OMC routes were about $5 a person.

“It’s really hard to balance this all over the system because, again, we are not about the efficiencies always, we’re about being able to serve all the communities within Clallam County,” Gallacci said during his presentation.

Public feedback for the study showed the top-ranked initiative for the agency should be later evening service, followed by more frequent service and better connections on existing routes, additional Saturday service, Sunday service, and, lastly, earlier morning service.

Potential fare increases will be discussed in 2022, Gallacci said.

Free public transit bus fares are offered in Island, Mason and Jefferson counties, Gallacci noted.

“I’m not convinced that free fares on any modes of service is something I am supporting right now, but again, that’s not my decision,” he said Thursday.

“I’ll be open-minded about it going forward. We have a lot of players in the mix, and we all need to agree on the direction we are going with fares. It’s a very sensitive subject moving forward.”

Transit Board Chair Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, a Port Angeles City Council member, said Thursday he will advocate next year for free fares on routes such as the heavily used inner-city Port Angeles runs, where he said fareless service for short rides make the most sense.

“I’m not interested in pushing for that if people don’t think it’s the right idea for our community,” he said.

A YouTube recording of Gallacci’s presentation and his slide synopsis of the operational analysis are at chooseclallamfirst.com.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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