By Mike Harbour
Intercity Transit, Olympia, WA, serves a population of 150,000 within 97 square miles in the Puget Sound region. In early 2001 Intercity Transit faced the loss of 40 percent of its revenue due to the elimination of the State of Washington Motor Vehicle Excise Tax. Following a difficult 40 percent reduction in service and staff, the board rededicated itself to a six-year strategic plan to finance and restore its services, and strengthen the role of Intercity Transit in the community. Voters approved doubling the local sales tax for public transportation in 2002. Service restoration began in early 2003 with new services focused on establishing high-frequency corridors and more direct access.
The board clearly wanted the agency to be more than just a bus company, placing a greater emphasis on vanpool and ridesharing programs, bicycle and pedestrian advocacy. The philosophy focused on the entire customer experience, not just the time spent on the bus.
In 2006 with much of the 2002 Strategic Plan implemented, the board instituted its more forward thinking vision for Intercity Transit. The agency was to become a leading transit system in the country, recognized for our well-trained, highly motivated, customer-focused, community-minded employees and their commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all citizens of Thurston County.
Our efforts to meet that vision led the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) this year to name Intercity Transit the best transit system in the nation for its size. The 2009 Outstanding Public Transportation Achievement Award honored our agency in the medium-size category for transit systems providing between 4 and 30 million rides annually.
The transition of Intercity Transit has included a series of four service increases between February 2003 and February 2008, to which the community has responded very positively. Since 2006, we have increased our fixed-route ridership by more than 50 percent and received the Federal Transit Administration 2009 Success in Enhancing Ridership award. In 2008, the agency had 4.3 million boardings on its fixed-route system and more than 5.1 million total rides.
In addition to its regular fixed-route and ADA-paratransit services, Intercity Transit offers additional transportation services including:
- Vanpool and Ridesharing Services — Intercity Transit increased its number of active vanpools from 140 in November 2007 to more than 190 in November 2008. Grants from the Washington State Department of Transportation Vanpool Expansion program and participation in the Rideshare Online effort enabled this growth.
- Village Vans — this Jobs and Reverse Commute (JARC)-funded program combines a job training program with trainees providing transportation services for other persons making the transition from welfare to work. This program provided more than 4,500 trips in 2008 and over 95 percent of trainees have found jobs including several at Intercity Transit.
- Community Van and Surplus Van Grant programs — These two programs address transportation gaps in our community by making surplus vanpool vans available to local non-profit groups to satisfy their transportation needs.
- Bicycle Commuter Contest and Bike-to-School Day — Intercity Transit manages the annual month-long bicycle commuting event as well as programs to encourage bicycle use by students. Participation in the BCC has increased since 2007 and we are benefitting by a strong bike-and-bus correlation.
- Youth Education and Outreach programs — Intercity Transit has a full-time youth education specialist who works to educate local school districts, teachers, students and community groups on transportation programs such as Smart Moves in Schools and Safe Routes to Schools.
Intercity Transit has also been a leader in sustainable practices. In 2002 we were one of the first systems in the nation to begin fueling our entire bus fleet with biodiesel. As a result of these efforts the State of Washington Department of Ecology recognized the agency through its Award for Environmental Excellence from the Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition. The Thurston County Chamber of Commerce awarded its Green Business award.
Intercity Transit continues to thrive despite the economic downturn. Ridership continues to increase with 2009 ridership up 9 percent over 2008 despite a 33 percent fare increase and drop in fuel prices. A newly expanded park-and-ride facility — from 139 to 317 spaces — opens in September 2009, and work has begun to expand our primary transit center and our operations and maintenance facility.
We have purchased six hybrid motorcoaches using funds available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and will put them into service in June 2010. A State of Washington Regional Mobility grant allows us to begin planning for a new 325-space park-and-ride facility over a former landfill site.
Intercity Transit is fortunate to serve local jurisdictions and a community that values a vibrant quality of life, and recognizes the importance and role of public transportation in a healthy community.
Mike Harbour serves as general manager of Intercity Transit, Olympia, WA.