We're proud to have a great transit system

Intercity Transit has added another award to its trophy case. The bus system that serves Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Yelm has been recognized as the best medium-sized transit system in the United States.

The award from the American Public Transportation Association is based on ridership growth, safety, financial management, community involvement and other measurable records from 2006 through 2008. In that period Intercity Transit saw its ridership grow by more than 50 percent to 5.1 million passenger trips last year.

The growth continues this year despite a fare increase of 33 percent in January and fluctuating gasoline prices.

That’s truly remarkable.

Transit watchers have been eagerly anticipating first-quarter ridership numbers from the American Public Transportation Association. They wanted to see whether the dramatic growth in the number of people riding the bus would decline sharply now that gasoline prices have dropped along with the number of employed people.

The numbers are out. Nationally, mass transit ridership during the first quarter of 2009 was down 1.17 percent from the same quarter last year. That includes heavy rail (down 1.77 percent); light rail (up 1.78 percent); commuter rail (down 3.03 percent) and buses (down 1.22 percent).

King County ridership was down 1.27 percent, including a 1.33 percent drop in bus ridership.

But Thurston County is bucking that trend. Even though local gasoline prices have dropped from a high of $4.50 per gallon to about $2.90, riders are sticking with Intercity Transit.

The latest APTA numbers show Intercity Transit ridership was up almost 12 percent in the first quarter.

 • Bus ridership was up 12.47 percent.

 • Van-pool ridership was up 10.55 percent.

 • Dial-a-lift ridership was up 3.59 percent.

In the first three months of the year, Intercity Transit provided about 1,344,100 rider trips, up from 1,200,300 last year.

And remember, those increases in the first quarter are on top of ridership records set in 2008 when Intercity Transit provided 5.1 million trips, with the lion’s share – 4.3 million trips – logged on the fixed bus routes.

It’s clear that Intercity Transit is a vital resource for many South Sound residents.

The most recent IT survey showed that 80 percent of the riders use transit for economic purposes. On any given day, according to transit spokeswoman Meg Kester, people use transit to get to work (34 percent) and school (23 percent), or for shopping and personal business (23 percent).

And this may be the most impressive statistic of them all: 86 percent of the riders surveyed rate Intercity Transit as “good” or “excellent.”

Customer satisfaction was one of the measurement tools used by the national organization that awarded Intercity Transit its “Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award.” Intercity Transit won the title in the medium-size category of 108 transit systems providing between 4 and 30 million rides annually. At 5.1 million trips, IT was going up against much, much larger transit systems for the honor.

“It is a very significant recognition. … In the transit industry, it’s one of the top awards,” said Tom Green, chair of the Intercity Transit Authority.

IT general manager Mike Harbour announced the award, and served doughnuts to IT’s 290 employees, at a recent recognition ceremony.

Intercity Transit operates:

 • A fleet of 99 buses, including 68 coaches, 31 dial-a-lift vans and 225 van-pool vans.

 • Five transit centers.

 • 938 bus stops, 202 bus shelters and three park-and-ride lots.

It has buses that run on cleaner-burning biodiesel and bike racks on all buses.

More important, Intercity Transit has used guidance from community residents to shape the local bus system, from the hours and days of operations to the routes and timing between buses.

Harbour acknowledged the community’s involvement when he accepted the national award. “This is a great honor,” Harbour said. “It’s a tribute to our outstanding employees, the leadership of the Intercity Transit Authority, and our entire community that supports and understands the value of public transportation.”

The national recognition for Intercity Transit is well deserved and is confirmation that South Sound has a top-notch transit system.