Pacific Northwest 1997

Day 1 (7/24): Seattle and the Water Taxi

I arrived at Sea-Tac airport around 12:30 p.m, walked outside to the bus stop to wait the Metro #194. After about 20 minutes, a Seattle-bound#194 arrived and I rode it to Downtown Seattle. I got off at university station, found my hotel and checked in.

Then, I went to the Exchange Building to pick up some schedules (they often have a greater variety than the bus schedule rack at Westlake station). Among the schedules, I noticed one for a "Water Taxi", operating between the Waterfront and West Seattle, via Elliott Bay. Sounded like fun . . .

So, a bit later, I caught Metro #37 from Downtown Seattle. The bus left Downtown via the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a double-decker freeway that reminded me of the old "Cypress" structure in Oakland. #37 breezed by Harbor Island,an industrial area, than continued th rough an older residential area. I got off at Seacrest Park, to board the Water Taxi.

To get to the water taxi, one must walk along the lower dock at the boat launch. This was a wooden walkway which pitched and rolled with the water--not the most comfortable thing to walk on. An 82-passenger boat pulled up(the original 45-passenger boat had broken down a few weeks back) and we passengers boarded and were on our way. Fares ($2) were collected on board.

Although the schedule promised an 8-minute t rip across the bay, it was more like 10-12 because of freighter traffic. We arrived and deboarded at the Argosy Cruises (the boat operator) dock at Pier 55 in Seattle. (A few midday trips operated to Pier 66 instead.)

There was a writeup about the Water Taxi in the "Downtown Source", a community paper. It seems that the service wasn't getting the ridership expected,especially commuter ridership. One local transit advocacy group blamed"parking in Seattle". I can't help wondering if it is more a factor of convenience (commuter parking in West Seattle some distance from the boat,conditions at the dock, lack of convenient bus service from Pier 55 tooffice buildings) that discourages ridership.

The rest of the day was spent walking around the water front. I took the Waterfront Streetcar and the bus tunnel back to my hotel.

Day 2 (7/25): Tacoma, Olympia, Centralia and Grays Harbor

This was the day of the "big" trip. I had initially planned to travel via Bremerton and Mason County, to look at the various transit systems there, butI decided later to travel to Centralia from Seattle, to see how far south I could get.

So, about 6:15 a.m. or so, I boarded a Pierce Transit #592 in Downtown Seattle.This trip bypassed Downtown Tacoma and ope rated directly to the Lakewood Park/Ride lot. (Nothing horribly special, just a parking lot with the usual saw toothed bus platform in the middle of it). There, I transferred to a Pierce Transit operated #603 for the ride into Olympia. #603 looped through the State Capitol grounds before serving the new Transit Center.

The Olympia Transit center was another sawtooth platform bus stop, with "rainforest-inspired" art works and a pass sales office. They were well stocked with plenty of schedules, not only Intercity Transit (the local operator in Olympia/Thurston County) but also with schedules for connecting services such as Twin Transit (Lewis Co), Grays Harbor Transit, and Mason Transit. After gulping some java at a nearby coffee shop, I prepared to board my first Intercity Transit bus.

Intercity Transit operates full size Orions and Gilligs on the routes serving in-town areas (Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater), but uses van-buses (cutaways) and shorter buses on the "county" routes to outlying areas. In the evenings and weekends, certain fixed routes are replaced with dial-a-ride service (called Custom Bus). Fares are $.50 (they may go up to $.60 later this year), and day-passes are used instead of transfers. Bike racks are available on all I.T. buses.

A lso planned is Saturday express service on #620 between Olympia and Tacoma.

I boarded IT #98 for the ride to Grand Mound. This used one of the van-buses,and about 3 or 4 other passengers (one using the bike rack) rode with me the entire length of the route. Once we got south of Tumwater, it was solid farmland along a two-lane road.

At Grand Mound, the Twin Transit bus to Centralia and Chehalis was waiting.This was yet another van-bus. Two or three of us boarded, paid a new fare(of $.30), then we were on our way. I talked with another passenger on the bus, who was also well versed in long-distance transit hopping (he had done Los Angeles-San Diego, and other similar trips, using only local transit) He mentioned there had been a "Mountain Transit System" that ran between Centralia and Packwood, but this system had stopped running due to lack of funds.

After snaking through Centralia (picking up no further passengers), I deboarded at the Centralia Amtrak station an dhung around there, waiting for my next bus. While waiting, I noticed that Twin Transit used mostly 35-foot Gilligs, and an occasional Orion, allwhite with red and blue stripes.

In about 30 minutes or so, Grays Harbor Transit #90 pulled up to the Amtrak station. This was a pale yellow van-bus. I and one other passenger boarded, paid our fare ($1 for trips outside of Grays Harbor County) and headed for Aberdeen.

This service of GHT #90 only operates on Fridays. On other days of the week, #90 provides service in other parts of Grays Harbor County.

Interestingly, GHT #90 retraced portions of the IT #98 route through Grand Mound and Rochester, then continues via US 12 through Oakville, Porter and Malone. One more passenger boarded in Oakville. When we reached Elma, we continued directly to Aberdeen via the freeway, since we all wanted to get off there. This got us to Aberdeen about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

I walked around Aberdeen for a few moments, then returned to the Aberdeen bus terminal (the usual off street bus waiting area, with a small office used for pass sales). I got a good look at GHT's equipment. Besides several van-buses (used mostly for dial-a-ride and outlying areas) they had some shiny new Gilligs and an AM General that had seen better days. But the biggest surprise came when I boarded GHT #40 for the ride back to Olympia:the bus used was a Canadian GMC "fishbowl". It even had emergency exit signs in English and French (was this bus an ex-BC Transit unit) although various other notices were posted in English and Spanish. We left Aberdeen with a full load. (Fare: $.25 to Grays Harbor County points, but $1.00 to Olympia).

GHT #40 took the freeway a few miles out of Aberdeen, but switched to a paralleling two-lane road. Passengers could flag the bus down, as there were few, if any signed stops. Eventually, we arrived at the Greyhound station in Olympia.

There was still a few things I wanted to see, so I rode out on line #44to the Evergreen State College, then rode it back to Capitol Mall. At the mall, I saw a Mason Transit Authority bus (white 35-foot Gillig with green lettering). This is a fare free bus system serving Mason County, with connections to adjoining counties. In fact, Mason County transit service was extended into Olympia rather recently, replacing an entire IT line (#83 Steamboat Springs).

Eventually, I returned to the Olympia Transit Center, and boarded an Olympia Express back to Tacoma. This route is shared between Pierce Transit and Inter city Transit, and the trip I boarded was operated by Intercity Transit. We arrived at the Lakewood transit center on time, but our connecting #594 bus to Seattle was over 30-minutes late.

While waiting, an all-white 45-foot Dina Marcopolo pulled up to the park/ride lot and discharged passengers. The headsign read "Everett Boeing-Tacoma Express",but there was no operator's name anywhere on the bus.

#594 finally arrived, and it left Lakewood with a full load--which became a standing load after serving Downtown Tacoma. We arrived in Seattle around6:30 p.m--30 minutes before the bus tunnel was scheduled to close. I got off near International District station, walked over to the station and waited for one of the last buses of the day to the University District.

As I waited, one bus went through the tunnel on diesel power (they're supposed to switch to electric power on entering the tunnel) and I heard its engine reverberate through the tunnel for more than a minute.

Finally, a U-district bus arrived. I boarded, and as we drove through the tunnels, bells and announcements reminded passengers waiting at tunnel stationsthat the last bus was passing through. The bus ran express to the U-district,where I walked around for a few hours before catc hing a bus back downtown.

Day 3 (7/26) : Renton, Bellevue, Aurora and on to Port Angeles

This was the day that I was supposed to continue on to Port Angeles. BeforeI did that, I decided to take a look at East Seattle, via Metro #340. So, after checking out of the hotel, I boarded the first #194 of the day in the bus tunnel, and took the 30-minute trip to the airport.

After a half-hour wait, #340 arrived. This was one of Metro's colorful new Gilligs. The bus was quite full as it operated through a scenic neighborhood to Southcenter Mall, where it emptied out quite a bit. I wondered if 30 minute frequency on Saturday (rather than 60 minute) would be warranted on the portion of #340 between Burien and Southcenter.

(As we approached South center, we heard this big bang! It turned out that another new Metro bus, being used in "Driver Training" had mounted the curb, taking a pretty big chunk out of it. The driver of the bus I wason shook his head and said something like "It'll be 30 days be fore theylet him drive again!")

#340 then rolled through Renton, which (to me) looked like the biggest car sales lot I've ever seen (although it does have an "antiquey" downtown area), then onto I-405, making freeway stops at Kennydale, Newport Hills ,and Coal Creek Parkway before leaving the freeway to serve Bellevue. At the South Bellevue Park/Ride, some passengers got off to catch a Metro shuttlegoing to the Fair.

Downtown Bellevue itself had a nice transit center, surrounded by office buildings. The bus waited there for about 10-minutes (to allow for transfer connections, etc.) before continuing on to Kirkland, Kingsgate and Bothell,where it left the freeway and operated along surface streets to Aurora Village, where I got off. (#340 continued from Aurora Village to Shoreline).

Next I had to go downtown, in order to catch the bus to Port Angeles. As Iboarded #359 (a limited stop bus operating along Aurora Ave to Seattle), I wondered if I would get Downtown in time to board the Olympic Bus at Greyhound.

The good news--I made it in time.
The bad news--the "bus" turned out to be a 10-passenger van, and was already full. I'd have to wait about 4 hours for the next (and last)trip.

After killing a few hours (via a tunnel bus, the Monorail, Seattle Metro #6, #44, and #71), I returned Downtown, and eventually caught the later Olympic Bus lines trip. This trip featured a 20-passenger van-bus, only one other passenger (a regular, weekly commuter between Sequim and Seattle),and a chatty driver who let us in on some of the background on Olympic Bus Lines.

OBL is mostly a charter operator, taking people on tours of the Olympic Peninsula. Recently, they started running two round trips per day to Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport.

OBL prefers to use the 10-passenger vans, because they cost less to operate and take on the ferry. Usually, ridership is moderate, but occasionally, they have full loads on a trip.

It is possible to do an all-public transit trip between Seattle and Port Angeles, but would require an entire day and be dependent onm any connections (including a notoriously flaky ferry trip that is subjectto cancellation if the tides are too extreme).

The driver collected our $20 fares at the Edmonds ferry terminal, then we rolled on to the ferry for the 30-minute trip to Kingston. The ferry ride was very smooth (smoother than the buses, or even some trains!) We reboarded the bus as the ferry approached the Kingston terminal, then it was an incredible ride through the communities of Kingston, Pt Gamble, the Hood Canal Bridge, Discovery Bay, Blyn, Sequim and finally, Port Angeles.

Although I got to Port Angeles too late to ride any local transit there,I did get a look at a blue-and-white Orion operated by Clallam Transit between Sequim and Port Angeles.

Day 4 (7/27): Pt. Angeles to Victoria

From Pt Angeles, I boarded the MV Coho ferry to Victoria, BC. This ferry seemed to "rock" much more than either the WA or BC ferry boats, especially near Pt. Angeles. About an hour and a half later, we arrived in Victoria's Inner Harbor. After a rather quick Customs check, I was ready to explore Victoria.

BC Transit operates local bus service in Victoria (and most, if not all cities in British Columbia). How ever, for the most part, the local city transit systems don't connect or accept each other's fare media. Since this was a Sunday, just about every bus was a new, low-floor New Flyer.(I did catch a glimpse of some GMC Canada fishbowls languishing in a bus yard, though).

A few of the trips I took (from Downtown Victoria):

I wanted to go to Sooke, but service out there was too limited, so I settled on #6 to Royal Oak, then returned to Downtown on #30.

Day 5 (7/28): Victoria to Nanaimo and Vancouver

Monday morning. Time to catch the VIA Rail/E&N train to Nanaimo. This was a two-car, self propelled train that traveled through some of the most scenic area. . .Although many of the stops along the route were flag stops, some were well used (the train, or at least the car I was riding in, never seemed less than about 2/5ths full. . .)

I got off at Nanaimo Station. Although I could have used BC Transit (Nanaimo Regional Transit) #5 to get downtown from the station, I walked instead.

BC Transit, along with the Regional District of Nanaimo, operates the local transit system in Nanaimo and environs. This system consists of about 10 different routes. It is also one of the few systems to connect with another BC Transit system (Parksville/Qualicum Beach) and offer reciprocal transfer privileges. Weekday and Saturday service is okay--runs as late as 11:30 p.m. in some areas. Sunday service in Nanaimo is rather minimal (service span of 10 am to 6 pm, hourly on some routes).The standard issue, low-floor New Flyer is used throughout the system. As Nanaimo can get quite warm, their buses feature air conditioning. One problem: bus stops, especially away from downtown, are often poorly marked (sometimes, just a red band with a picture of a bus on a light pole. . .)

Most Nanaimo bus routes meet downtown at a shopping mall, where bus bays have been provided (however, these bus bays are deep enough that the buses have to *back* out of them--it's interesting to see all of these buses backing out almost at once!) I took Route #2 for the short ride to the ferry terminal, for the trip to Vancouver.

At Horseshoe Bay, passengers departed the ferry via the upper vehicle deck (rather than on a separate walkway, as at Tsawwassen). At Horseshoe Bay, the transit traveler can choose between two routes: the local #250 or the express #257. Most of us chose # 257, and it became crowded very quickly. There must have been at least 15 people standing on that buses it zoomed along the Upper Levels Highway, then crowded onto the narrow Lions Gate Bridge.

About 40 minutes later, we arrived at Downtown Vancouver . I was beat. . .

Day 6 (7/29): UBC, the B-Line, North Van and West Coast Express

I spent most of the morning at the University of British Columbia, then I decided to try the new route #99 (otherwise known as the B-Line). This is an express route that operates along Broadway, making only selected stops. According to the time schedule, it's up to 40% faster than the local service on Broadway.

#99 used articulated buses, but there didn't seem to be very many riders on this late-morning trip. (Perhaps it's better used on the peak hours). At the Broadway Skytrain station, I transferred to the train and rode out to King George station (end of the line), then back to Main St station (near the bus/train station).

My transfer was expiring, so I decided to buy a day pass. I ran into trouble when the fare machine wouldn't accept my bill. The attendant(Skytrain is better attended than in years past, especially in the downtown area) said that I had one of the dreaded "AND" series bills,not accepted by the machines. Fortunately, I had some one- and two-dollar coins, so I used those.

I rode to Waterfront Station, caught the Seabus (passenger ferry) across to North Vancouver, had lunch and walked around the Lonsdale Quay area, and the BC Rail station. Then, it was time to catch the Seabus back (12-minutes each way) for the big trip of the day . . . .Mission, BC via West Coast Express.

West Coast Express is the fourth "GO Transit look-a-like system" built(after Miami TriRail, Los Angeles Metrolink and San Diego Coaster). The systems seem to sprout new features as they are built. West Coast Express features worktables with electrical outlets for computers, cup holders in the seats, and even a "Cappuccino Car" (one car in each train is outfitted with a coffee bar in place of a rest. .. er... washroom).

The train leaves Waterfront station (handy connection with the Skytrain and Seabus) and stops at Port Moody, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows,Maple Meadows, Port Haney and Mission. As one can imagine, local bus service gets more scarce the farther one travels from Vancouver, with local service in Port Haney getting very minimal. Mission, is not even in the Vancouver Regional Transit System, but in the Central Fraser Valley Transit System (also serving Abbotsford), with no connections, other than WCE (and Greyhound) between them.

WCE experiments with Sunday service on summer weekends, and has even published a brochure, encouraging people to ride out to various activities on the extreme eastern portion of the route, then ride back to Vancouver on the following Sunday morning.

While riding WCE, I couldn't help comparing it to Metrolink (since I live in LA and use Metrolink every so often. . .). WCE seemed considerably slower, especially along the waterfront between Vancouver and Port Moody.The train sped up somewhat as we veered inland, though.

The train didn't seem particularly crowded, although the car I was in was at least 2/3rds full. (It might have been a bit low, due to the fact that many folks were on vacation during this time).

A side note on WCE ridership figures: there was a local radio report that a WCE employee had quit over a disagreement as to how ridership was counted:WCE officials claimed al most 6,000 passengers rode the train every day, while this employee contended that ridership was more like 2,000 per day.

A story in "The Buzzer" (BC Transit's riders' newsletter) states that WCE "recorded 1.44 million passenger trips in its first fu ll operating year".Dividing 1,440,000 by 52 (weeks per year) gives about 27,692 passengers per week, dividing that by 5 (days per week) gives about 5,538 passengers per day.

Assuming the original figure is correct; does this figure represent boardings (counting everyone who boards the train) or individual passengers?

Traditionally, transit ridership is counted in boardings. However, most people on commuter rail usually ride two trips per day (round trip), so it would seem that the WCE provides round-trip rides for 2,769 individuals every weekday.)

We finally arrived in Mission at 5:03. The Greyhound back to Vancouver wasn't due for more than three hours, so I wandered around Downtown Mission a bit . . .not much to do. . .stuff starting to close except fora few fast food places and coffeeshops. I walked back to the bus stop at Mission WCE station and waited for a bus (I had seen one earlier). Soon, a BC Transit/Central Fraser Valley Transit System bus pulled up,and I got on. This was their Route #12, which looped around the City of Mission.

CFVTS operates 7 routes within Abbotsford (south of Mission, across the Fraser River), plus the Mission City Loop #12 and the "Valley Connector"(Route #11, which connects Mission and Abbotsford). Service runs on30-minute frequencies on most of the Abbotsford routes, and 60-minute service on routes #11 and #12. Night service (until around 10:30 p.m.) and some limited Sunday service is provided.

Only certain routes are handicapped accessible, and are assigned the standard-issue low-floor New Flyers. Other routes use Orions (I only saw routes #11 and #12). Curiously, unlike all the other systems I've seen, CFVTS actively discourages passengers from using the area over the front wheels as a luggage rack.

#11 and #12 meet, timed-transfer, at the Mission Library at 2nd and Horne.This is also where Greyhound buses stop. I noticed something interesting about layovers on #11 and #12: after resting a bit, the drivers will *swap* routes (i.e. he route #11 driver will switch buses with the route #12 driver. Vehicles remain on the routes that their assigned to).

Eventually, I boarded the Greyhound back to Vancouver. It was lightly loaded, three other passengers got on with me in Mission, and a fourth flagged the bus down on the two-lane road just west of town.

Day 7 (7/30)

I returned from Vancouver to Seattle, then flew back home to Los Angeles.It was a fun trip! I'll be back . . .


Generally speaking the Washington State transit systems I used worked well. Transit personnel were polite and informative, and I ran into no problems with unruly passengers on any system. I noticed no graffiti on any bus, save for a bit of window scratching on a few Pierce Transit buses,and one Seattle Metro vehicle. Fares on Metro and Pierce Transit seemed comparable to those on comparable systems elsewhere in the US; fares on some of the rural systems (Intercity Transit, Grays Harbor) were amazingly cheap for the distance one could travel on them.

Most of the time, the various BC Transit services also worked well for me. Buses leaving the ferry terminal in Horseshoe Bay can be very crowded (and infrequent--express service on #257 is provided only every other hour). Perhaps hourly service, and even articulated buses would be in order for #257, especially during the summer?

In Vancouver, BC Transit plans a "Richmond-Vancouver Rapid Bus Project".This should be interesting. . ..

I also read somewhere that BC Transit/Vancouver was going to require zone fares all day on weekdays (not just during peak hours as is now). On the other hand, the day pass would be available and valid all-day, not just after 9:30 a.m.

There is also a bus route restructuring program in the Langley/Aldersgrove area. (I wonder if that includes a local connection to Abbotsford)

Washington State Transit Suggestions:

1. For the I-5 Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia corridor, I'd restructure the service thusly:
a. Metro #174 and Pierce #500 locals--leave as is
b. Extend #194 south of Federal Way to Tacoma (absorbing Pierce #501). This would give Tacoma better airport access via transit
c. Create a basic route #594, through-routing current #594 and #620, providing continuous service between Seattle and Olympia. This would also stop at the Tacoma Mall, McChord Air Force Base, and various express stops in Thurston County.
b. More direct Tacoma-Seattle and Tacoma-Olympia commuter service, as needed.

2. Consolidate the Twin Transit Centralia-Grand Mound route and the Grays Harbor Aberdeen-Centralia route into a shuttle (running at least every weekday) between Centralia and Elma. Passengers continuing on to Aberdeen could transfer to GHT #40.

3. Improve connections all around the Olympic Peninsula, in general.

4. Olympic Bus Lines: use two buses (20-pass or bigger) and split the service--have one bus operate from Seattle to the Edmonds ferry terminal,with the other bus shuttling between Pt. Angeles and the Kingston Ferry.This will allow for more frequent service, and save costs (ferry fares)

BC Transit Suggestions:

Improve speed on the West Coast Express, especially along the waterfront area. A few of the passengers I've talked to complained that it was too slow. Also, consider adding midday and Saturday service. (Coaster, between Oceanside and San Diego, CA, should be the model here. . .)

Also, consider other possible WCE routes. Something south to White Rock, perhaps?

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