The Twin Transit Board last week approved a plan that will provide bus service for Olympia commuters and increase roadside stops, but will reduce service on weekends and eliminate the flagging system.
Twin Transit general manager Rob LaFontaine said the plan has been fine-tuned over the last several months.
LaFontaine relied on an extremely conservative budget for the program, which gets 65 percent of its funding from sales tax revenue.
Since then, the financial forecast has improved, in large part due to a $1.3 million grant from the state.
“It’s not as bad now, but it’s still less than we would need to continue same level of service,” LaFontaine said last week.
To save money, Twin Transit had to cut service hours. Each service hour — one bus working for one hour — costs the transit agency about $44.
In past years, Twin Transit has provided about 30,000 service hours.
The new plan brings that figure down to 28,000 or 29,000.
The first cut: Route 41, which previously ran from Centralia to Grand Mound, was closed July 15.
“Essentially, at that point, we could have been done,” LaFontaine said about the organization’s finances before the cut. “That brought us down to what we considered a comfortable financial level, but we wanted extra money to make improvements.”
Thus, Route 41 was converted to commuter transit from the Twin Cities to Olympia, and Route 42, the previous Olympia route, was eliminated, its service distributed over other existing routes.
As Twin Transit planned the upgrades and cutbacks, the agency focused on maintaining as much service as possible while increasing efficiency, according to LaFontaine.
“Right now, the buses stop on private property, shopping centers, etc. It takes time to pull into the center, and we have to turn in, even if no one is there,” he said.
For many years, he said, Twin Transit has been a flag-style transit agency.
“That allows a person to flag down a bus like they would a taxi,” he said. “What we’ve found is that a lot of people find that intimidating.”
Twin Transit now will reduce stops on private property and eliminate the flagging system, but will offer an increase in public curbside stops — in total, more than 95 throughout Centralia and Chehalis.
The most unpopular change, as indicated by the response at a recent public meeting, was the proposed cessation of weekend service after 1 p.m.
Several attendees, particularly those who work on weekends, “voiced strong concerns about the change,” LaFontaine said.
In response, the general manager has proposed Twin Transit reduce afternoon weekend service rather than do away with it altogether.
Under LaFontaine’s new proposal, Twin Transit would provide basic service — one Centralia-Chehalis bus every hour.
Not everyone is thrilled with the new plan, or how it was presented to the public.
Resident David Underwood, who has been voluntarily car-free for 25 years, said the reductions place a burden on those who work locally, and privilege those who commute to Olympia.
Many do not know about the changes, he said, because they were not widely advertised.