Our views: Dash service a huge success

Monday's opening session of the state Legislature also signaled changes in the bus transportation system that connects downtown Olympia with the state Capitol Campus.

The goal, of course, is to ease parking congestion on the campus and to get campus visitors and workers into the city's business district for meals, shopping and entertainment.

One year ago, officials at Intercity Transit launched the free Dash service. The buses in their distinctive, bright colors pick up riders every 12 minutes, traveling between the Farmers Market, the legislative building and points in between.

In its first year, Dash has been a dashing success. And the really good news is that Dash service is expanded this year.

Year end statistics from Intercity Transit show there were 81,002 boardings in 2006. Not surprisingly, February, the height of the legislative session, was the peak month with 12,282 boardings. But ridership stayed strong during the summer and fall months, before dropping to a low of 4,060 boardings in December. Dash ridership got a boost when Saturday routes were added in mid-April. Saturday ridership peaked in August, during the peak of the Farmers Market harvest season, with 1,055 boardings. Buses covered their route every eight minutes on Saturdays because of less congestion.

Interesting tidbits:

n Dash buses make a total of 59 trips on weekdays, 48 trips on Saturdays.

n Dash costs $620,780 annually to maintain and operate. That's 9,677 total vehicle service hours at an average annual cost of $64.15 per hour.

n Total boardings during the legislative session amounted to 23,602 for the nine-week session - an average of 2,622 per week.

n The numbers dropped significantly after the session with a weekly boarding average of 1,306 off-session.

Intercity Transit officials listened to riders as they revamped the Dash service for 2007. They have moved the starting time on weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 6:45 a.m. They have extended service at the other end of the day. Instead of closing the bus doors at 6:30 p.m., the free shuttle service is running until 7:30 p.m. weekdays. As was the case last year, Saturday service is suspended until the Farmers Market reopens in April.

Also new for the first three months of 2007 will be short-term and daily parking at the market. Drivers can park in the designated area - the green striped parking stalls - to catch the shuttle service. The first two hours of parking are free, with a cost of 50 cents per hour thereafter.

That's a great bargain for people doing business on the Capitol Campus. Park at the market and ride Dash to avoid the problem of trying to park close to the campus.

As ridership statistics attest, Dash got off to a great start in 2006. Intercity Transit officials and their partners - the Olympia Downtown Association, visitor and convention bureau, state and local government officials - expect ridership numbers to grow even stronger this year. The longer legislative session, expanded service and additional parking opportunity at the market should make those vibrant orange, lime-green, purple and raspberry buses even more attractive to riders this year.