Seniors & Aging

For Bellingham retiree, riding WTA buses free and easy

Bob Hendricks, shown February 2016 on the 331 Cordata/WCC bus, uses his Gold Card, available for those 75 and older, to ride the bus for free. He is a member of WTA’s citizen advisory panel.
Bob Hendricks, shown February 2016 on the 331 Cordata/WCC bus, uses his Gold Card, available for those 75 and older, to ride the bus for free. He is a member of WTA’s citizen advisory panel. For The Bellingham Herald

The bus is an unsung hero of Bellingham, says frequent rider Bob Hendricks.

Five years ago, at the age of 75, he sold his Subaru station wagon to a friend and committed himself to using Whatcom Transportation Authority buses for pretty much all of his getting around. He says it was prudent from a safety standpoint for him to give up driving then. Plus, he was newly eligible for a WTA Gold Card, which allows people 75 and older to use the bus system for free.

“It’s generous of the community to provide me with the complimentary ride,” Hendricks says.

“The bus is a wonderful service when utilized intelligently,” he says. “It’s effortless.”

A typical day’s agenda finds Hendricks taking a WTA bus at least six or seven times. For example, one daytime task is walking the dog of a friend who’s at work.

If one understands how the buses run, you can use them to your advantage.

Bob Hendricks, frequent WTA rider

Starting from his home near Alabama Street and Cornwall Avenue, Hendricks;

▪ Takes the 331 bus to the Haggen grocery store on Woburn Street;

▪ Catches the 525 to Barkley Boulevard near St. Paul Street;

▪ Picks up the dog and walks it for 40 minutes along Railroad Trail;

▪ Delivers the dog to its home and gets back on the 525;

▪ Buys a treat for himself at the Haggen food court;

▪ Catches the 331 back home or elsewhere.

Hendricks knows the timing, so he doesn’t wait long.

“If one understands how the buses run, you can use them to your advantage,” he says. “Know where it runs and when it runs. I set up my schedules around it.”

A Korean War veteran, Hendricks occasionally takes WTA’s 80X bus to the Veterans Affairs clinic in Mount Vernon.

“The bus is there when you need it,” he says. “It’s reassuring. You can set your mind to using it.”

The bus is a last resort for a lot of people. But remember, ‘omnibus’ is the root word, and it means ‘for all.’

Bob Hendricks, WTA rider

Hendricks is a former high school teacher who also worked with traumatic brain injury patients and other disabled populations. Now retired, he serves on the boards of a couple of local transportation advisory groups, including WTA’s citizen advisory panel.

“As a bus rider, I provide input into the experience of riding,” he says. “I make recommendations and answer questions.

“Last year, I suggested WTA hold a Gold Card coffee/cake meeting at Barkley Square,” he says. “We had a good turnout. I talked with others. They said they don’t use their Gold Card because the bus doesn’t go where they want, when they want.”

Those folks might still own a car, or live farther from a bus stop, he says. Hendricks finds that people need to ride a bus before they will choose to ride the bus.

“We’re that kind of society,” he says. “The bus is a last resort for a lot of people. But remember, ‘omnibus’ is the root word, and it means ‘for all.’”

Seniors on buses

About 5 percent of riders on Whatcom Transportation Authority’s fixed bus routes in Whatcom County are over 65. That figure does not include seniors who use the agency’s paratransit service, where just under half of the people who used the paratransit service are over 65.

Every WTA bus offers priority seating for elderly and disabled riders, including two places for wheelchairs. Drivers are trained to help people with disabilities and mobility concerns, and can help secure wheelchairs in place.

For help figuring out bus routes, WTA’s website, ridewta.com, offers a trip planner. People with questions also can call 360-676-7433.

WTA offers reduced-fare cards to people 65 and older to people of any age with disabilities. People 75 and older can get a Gold Card that lets them ride free on all fixed routes.

For bus-related outreach to senior residences, guided rides from senior centers, or travel training, call Mary Anderson at the Whatcom Council of Governments, 360-685-8388

  Comments