Best views in town: New bus route runs from downtown Tacoma to Point Defiance

Pierce Transit’s summer gift to Tacoma’s Ruston Way is approaching quickly.

Wrapped in a trolley-themed exterior, “Downtown to Defiance” buses will run from Friday to Sept. 3 from downtown to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

Buses on Route 15 will leave every 30 minutes from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, along with the third Thursday each month for service to Art Mingle locations.

Stops along the way will put riders within walking distance of other bus stops, Les Davis Pier and the North Pearl Farmers Market, plus other shopping, restaurants and park options.

The route will connect with the Tacoma Link light rail trains coming to and from the Tacoma Dome Station, allowing people to park at the Dome station and ride to the trolley’s Pacific Avenue and Hood Street stop downtown.

Starting the route closer to the Dome would require another bus and increase the cost significantly, according to Pierce Transit.

The buses — four from Pierce’s Transit reserve fleet — run on compressed natural gas, are wheelchair accessible and have bicycle racks.

This summer’s project — estimated to cost $400,000 — is a one-year pilot. A second year of service will depend on ridership, riders’ surveys and the impact on attractions and businesses along the route.

Pierce Transit’s goals include enhancing Tacoma’s economy, promoting the city as a place to “live, work and play” and increasing ridership on all bus routes with this as an introduction to public transportation.

Route 15 originally was suggested by the project’s partners and greenlighted in February after a unanimous vote from the Pierce Transit board.

The city and Metro Parks Tacoma each contributed $70,000 with $45,000 coming from the civic group, South Sound Together.

This will be the first time public buses will cruise Ruston Way since 1991.

The program’s predecessor, the Commencement BayLiner, traveled from the Tacoma Mall to Point Defiance but was axed in 1991 because of low ridership.

Pierce Transit has no specific ridership projections, partly because Ruston Way hasn’t had bus service for more than 25 years and there are no comparable current routes, spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet said.

Beyond ridership, the agency will survey riders and businesses along the route in assessing future benefits of the service.

Building ridership on such a unique route might take several years, Japhet said, pointing to the seasonal Gig Harbor Trolley as an example.

The Gig Harbor Trolley — which will start its fourth summer Thursday — began with fairly low ridership, but saw more than 14,000 boardings in 2015 — a 20 percent increase from the previous year — and another 14 percent increase in 2016.

“So, we aren’t putting all our stock in first-year figures, as these types of services often do take several years to reach a higher ridership level,” Japhet said in an email.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium has no target for the number of visitors the Route 15 trolley will bring, but hopes it will result in new patrons as well as make visiting more convenient for regulars, spokeswoman Kris Sherman said.

In addition, she said, those who ride the trolley will free up parking at Point Defiance and reduce their carbon footprint. Reducing carbon emissions is one way the zoo tells visitors they can fight climate change and in turn help polar bears, walruses and other animals.

The zoo’s entrance will have a marked Pierce Transit stop while continuing to be a pickup and drop-off location for those who drive.

The new buses will begin running at 10:30 a.m. Friday after a 9:30 a.m. kickoff event at Tollefson Plaza that will feature speakers, information booths and prizes — a commemorative lanyard and ORCA card pre-loaded with $10 — for the first 50 attendees.

What it costs

Per-ride fare: $1 for adults and youths, 50 cents for Regional Reduced Fare Permits (RRFP) cardholders, a program for seniors and those with disabilities.

All-day passes: $5 for adults, $2.50 for youths and $2.50 for RRFP cardholders.

Other: Children under 5 ride for free, and “well-behaved, leashed” dogs are allowed. ORCA cards are accepted.

The stops on Route 15

Here are the stops on the new “Downtown to Defiance” bus route:


From Downtown Tacoma to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

  • Pacific Avenue and Hood Street (near the Tacoma Art Museum).
  • Pacific Avenue and South 14th Street.
  • Pacific Avenue and South 11th Street.
  • Dickman Mill along Ruston Way.
  • Les Davis Pier along Ruston Way.
  • Point Ruston.
  • Point Defiance entrance at Pearl Street and North 54th Street.
  • Point Defiance Visitors’ Center (near the Pagoda).
  • Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium entrance.


From the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium to Downtown Tacoma.

  • Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
  • Point Defiance exit at Pearl Street/North Park Avenue.
  • Point Ruston.
  • Harbor Lights restaurant along Ruston Way.
  • Pacific Avenue and South 11th Street.
  • Pacific Avenue and South 14th Street.
  • Commerce Street, close to 17th Street near the Greater Tacoma Convention Center.
  • Pacific Avenue and Hood Street.