Pierce Transit ‘custom bus’ service comes with Wi-Fi

Pierce Transit plans to start express bus service complete with Wi-Fi for employees of a private business in Olympia that is relocating to Puyallup.

The so-called “custom bus” service would transport employees of the Western Institutional Review Board from the Olympia Transit Center starting next month to the company’s new location at the Benaroya Business Park.

The Olympia-to-Puyallup route would be Pierce Transit’s first custom bus, patterned after service offered by King County Metro Transit.

As a public agency, Pierce Transit will use taxpayer dollars to transport at least 37 employees on one bus. But those workers will pay a higher percentage of the actual cost of their ride – about 60 percent – for their custom route. The typical bus fare covers 16 percent of costs.

Leaders with Pierce Transit say the service will benefit the public by helping reduce freeway congestion. And they say those relocated workers will contribute to the economy in Pierce County by making purchases and paying sales tax.

“We could benefit greatly from workers coming to Pierce County as opposed to workers leaving Pierce County to go to work,” said Rick Talbert, vice chairman of Pierce Transit’s board. “It’s another opportunity for Pierce Transit to customize service to the needs of our riders, to offer something different than we’ve traditionally been able to offer.”

Anyone can ride the route, regardless of whether they work for Western IRB.

The weekday service starts Dec. 9, the company’s first day of business in Puyallup.

The change will also add a route for other Pierce Transit riders.

To avoid a not-in-service trip from the agency’s Lakewood base to Olympia, Pierce Transit will test an early-morning express route from the University Place Town Center Park and Ride to Olympia. Stops will include the South Tacoma Sounder station and the Lakewood station.

The agency plans to spend up to $203,889 during the six-month demonstration.

Initially, Pierce Transit would operate one bus on the two routes. It would expand to two buses if demand warranted it.

Besides promoting economic development and congestion relief, the custom bus will return service to Olympia after cutbacks in 2011, said Justin Leighton, government relations officer for Pierce Transit.

The agency says 37 workers from Western IRB have already said they want to ride the bus, exceeding Pierce Transit’s target of 35.

Western IRB has 220 employees at two campuses in Olympia. The company provides regulatory and ethical review services for human research, said Laurie Jackson, chief operating officer. That research can include medications and new medical devices. Its employees include physicians, attorneys and office professionals.

“Our goal was to find a location where all of our employees could be together,” Jackson said.

Most of the company’s workers live in the Lacey area. Jackson said she expects a majority of employees will continue working for the company and thus will have to commute to Puyallup.

The company is working to find a variety of transportation alternatives, including car pools and van pools, to help workers.

Riding the custom bus is one of the top choices of employees, she said.

The company also is paying workers to help with their transportation costs. Jackson wouldn’t say how much.

While the payment won’t cover the complete custom bus fare, she said, “it will definitely make a dent in that.”

Jackson lives in the Gig Harbor area and will continue driving to work.

She said moving almost 200 employees to Puyallup will benefit Pierce County’s economy when those workers are eating out, buying gas or using other services.

Van Sawin, Pierce Transit’s business development officer, said the service will be demand-driven and is a way to respond to the needs of the community.

The custom bus project developed after the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County contacted Pierce Transit in March to assist with Western IRB’s relocation.

Pierce Transit’s executive-finance committee, made up of four board members including Talbert and chairwoman Marilyn Strickland, unanimously recommended the project last month. The agency’s nine-member board is scheduled to vote Nov. 18 whether to start the custom bus service.

It would be the transit system’s latest move into tailored service. The board voted last month to continue trolley service in Gig Harbor next summer after a trial run this past summer proved popular and met the agency’s ridership and revenue goals.

The board also could vote Nov. 18 on tailored service using two loop routes with shuttles in Fife, Edgewood and Milton. The so-called “circulator” service is proposed to start in mid-February.

Pierce Transit won’t be cutting any service to add the custom bus. The routes amount to four hours of service per weekday, Sawin said. The agency currently provides 392,000 service hours annually.

Pierce Transit will use a 42-seat, reserve diesel bus for the routes. It will be the first of 10 buses the agency plans to equip with Wi-Fi through 2014 at a cost of about $30,000.


Route 475, from University Place Town Center to Olympia: The one-way fare for adults will be $3. A monthly pass will be $108.

Route 485, from Olympia to Puyallup: The one-way fare for adults will be $4.50. A monthly pass will cost $162.

Rates for seniors who are at least 65 and persons with disabilities will be reduced on both routes. Children 5 and under ride free.

Riding the two new routes will be free in December. During that time, the routes will be added into the regional fare system so that ORCA cards can be used once fares are charged starting Jan. 2.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647