Come June, there almost certainly will be a sight on Tacoma’s Ruston Way not seen for 25 years or more: Public bus stops.
Pierce Transit is collaborating with several government and private agencies to create a route from downtown to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
The Pierce Transit board must approve creation of the route, but agency spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet said last week the project is a near shoo-in. A vote is scheduled for February.
The No. 15 bus would run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from June 2 to Sept. 3. The hours would be 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Buses would arrive at a stop every 30 minutes, and regular Pierce Transit fares would apply.
The route would start on Pacific Avenue near the Tacoma Art Museum and head north before reaching the zoo.
Much of the trip would be on Ruston Way, which runs along the western shore of Commencement Bay and is studded with restaurants and public beaches. It is one of Tacoma’s grand drives, and one a person has been unable to make by public bus since at least 1991, Japhet said.
Several stops would be on Ruston Way, including at Dickman Mill and Les Davis Pier.
While the new route is funded only for this summer as a pilot project, promoters hope it is successful enough to catch on.
“It could be a real draw,” said Tina Lee, Pierce Transit’s Community Development administrator. “There’s so many things for people to access.”
Lee said a diverse group of government and private agencies approached Pierce Transit in 2016 with the idea of running a trolley service from downtown to the zoo.
The idea was to give people a public transportation option for reaching some of Tacoma’s best assets, from the museum district downtown to Point Defiance Park, she said.
“They and we see it as a way to promote economic development and showcase the community,” Lee said.
The alliance was ready to put up some money to make the $400,000 project happen, she said.
The city of Tacoma and Metro Parks Tacoma contributed $70,000 each to the effort.
South Sound Together, comprised of businesses, universities, community organizations and others, has chipped in $45,000.
Point Ruston, the mixed-use development at the northern end of Ruston Way, has contributed $25,000 toward purchase of youth bus passes.
Pierce Transit is contributing three buses from its reserve fleet, drivers and other costs.
Japhet said the vehicles on the route will be full-service buses “wrapped to look like a trolley.” They will include Orca card readers, wheelchair access and bike racks, and be fueled by compressed natural gas, she said.
Metro Parks Tacoma sees the project as particularly beneficial for Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, which can suffer parking and traffic issues in the busy summer months.
But the bus route will offer other dividends, said Hunter George, chief communications and public affairs officer for the agency.
“It’s a great way to connect visitors and residents with downtown and the entire waterfront,” George said. “Families can park in one place and then ride the trolley and enjoy the entire waterfront.”
Pierce Transit and its partners will evaluate ridership, admissions at the zoo, Ruston Way restaurant patronage and other factors at the end of the project before deciding whether the new route warrants a return in 2018.
George said Metro Parks Tacoma is optimistic and hopes the No. 15 route has success similar to a special trolley service Pierce Transit operates in Gig Harbor during the summer.
That route saw ridership grow 20 percent from 2014 to 2015.
“Obviously, ridership will be key,” George said. “These things take time to build.”