Transit experiment in East Pierce County will end in February

Two Pierce Transit bus routes developed this year to test demand for service in communities including Fife, Milton and Edgewood will end in February.

One route stops at libraries, grocery stores, community centers and other civic locations in the East Pierce suburbs. The other route links commuters from Fife with the Puyallup Sounder train station.

Both routes were started as an experiment with the possibility of being phased out after one year. And as of October, each was averaging around 1 passenger per hour, according to transit agency tallies.

Pierce Transit staff asked the transit board if it wanted to extend the routes past the February deadline or modify either route.

Instead, the board voted Monday to end the demonstration project. Route 503 — the Fife-to-Puyallup station route — and Route 504 — also known as the Edgewood-Milton Community Connector — will both end on Feb. 14.

One of the board’s considerations was the high cost of providing the services, said Pierce Transit spokeswoman Carol Mitchell. Costs per passenger were monitored monthly during the experiment.

On Route 503, costs had bounced from just under $100 per passenger last spring to more than $125 in October, according to a Pierce Transit report. Costs per passenger on Route 504 ranged from just over $75 near the inception of the route in March to more than $140 in October.

Last year, the board had approved spending just over $739,000 on the two demonstration routes. Through October, the cost had already exceeded $784,000.

The routes were created to restore a modicum of service to communities that were hit hard by Pierce Transit budget cuts. Service hours for Fife, Milton and Edgewood were cut in 2011 as part of a 35 percent reduction across the system after voters rejected a sales tax increase.

Pierce Transit staff members appeared at community events and met with local groups to help spread the word about the routes. But those and other efforts were not enough to grow ridership.

The transit agency set a goal of an average of 10 passengers per service hour but was falling well short of the mark.

Mitchell said the agency has been reassessing throughout the year. Some adjustments were made in September.

She said staff had asked for more time beyond February to see if route adjustments would help and to try new ideas suggested by a team of representatives from Fife, Edgewood and Milton, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and other groups.

“In spite of all the work and outreach, we still haven’t hit on the right mix, or design, for that community,” Mitchell said.

Another community connector route, Route 425 in Puyallup and South Hill, is faring better. Mitchell said ridership has been growing slowly there. She said that route, which debuted in June, will likely come up for a mid-course review in 2015.