Big changes begin soon on bus routes across Whatcom County, including expanded Sunday service in rural areas, consolidation of routes serving Western Washington University, and added service to Bellingham International Airport.
“It affects every single route we have in one way or another,” said Rick Nicholson, director of service development for the Whatcom Transportation Authority. He said the changes beginning March 19 are the product of years of ridership studies, public forums and rider surveys.
“There’s no neighborhood that has service now that won’t have service,” he said.
WTA routes and schedules change periodically to adjust for traffic congestion, changing ridership patterns and demographics, Nicholson said. Route 331 from downtown to the Cordata area will now travel on James Street between Telegraph Road and Sunset Square – instead of bypassing that area on Interstate 5 – to accommodate new residents of recently built housing north of Sunset Square.
If a route is eliminated, it doesn’t mean that service is eliminated.
Rick Nicholson, Whatcom Transportation Authority
“It’s connecting a great deal of folks to downtown as well as (Bellis Fair) mall,” he said.
Nicholson said the biggest changes are the addition of Sunday service to Sudden Valley, Lynden, Ferndale, Gooseberry Point on the Lummi Peninsula, and the Deming and Kendall areas – outlying areas that also will see extended weekday service hours. In addition, a bus will stop near the airport, renewing by demand a route that was little used in the past. Five routes serving Western Washington University will be eliminated and routes around WWU will be changed to provide more efficient service, Nicholson said.
“If a route is eliminated, it doesn’t mean that service is eliminated,” Nicholson said, adding that riders often found routes across campus confusing and redundant. He said despite the elimination of routes 90A, 90B, 105, 196 and 197, service to the campus actually won’t change, as other routes will replace current stops. Service from Blaine won’t go to WWU, but rather end at downtown, where riders will transfer to another bus. Routes to WWU will still travel Billy Frank Jr. Street and to the Lincoln Street park-and-ride lot.
“We’ve tried to streamline and not reduce the amounts of service,” he said.
Fares remain at $1 a ride, with an unlimited-ride day pass still $3. Monthly, quarterly and annual passes also are available.
Route 401 Fairhaven-downtown bus, on the red Go Line following North State Street-Boulevard-South State Street, will be reduced from every 15 minutes to three times an hour, but its stops won’t be evenly placed within that hour. Route 401 also will become Route 1, according to new routes and schedules posted online at ridewta.com.
Service to the Bellingham airport will be part of a revised Route 3 Airport-Cordata line.
“That has been our lowest-ridership Go Line by far for a long time,” Nicholson said, adding that other routes also serve Fairhaven. Go Lines are color-coded routes that run more frequently in high-ridership areas, every 15 minutes. Lakeway Drive will become a Go Line again, after its service was reduced because of budget cuts around 2010, Nicholson said.
Nicholson said expanded service to Sudden Valley was among the most requested among riders over the past several years.
On weekdays, the last bus to Sudden Valley has left downtown at 6:40 p.m. Now, the last bus will leave downtown at 8:40 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays. The Route 512 bus that leaves downtown at 9:40 p.m. goes out of service near Whatcom Falls Park, without going to Sudden Valley. The last bus on Sundays will be 6:40 p.m.
He encouraged regular riders to examine the new schedules online before the new routes and schedules start. To see examples of the changes, go online to ridewta.com/changes and look for the section headlined “Changes coming soon” for the new routes and schedules, along with PDF maps.
Service to the Bellingham airport will be part of a revised Route 3 Airport-Cordata line. It will drop passengers at a WTA stop at Bakerview and airport roads, where passengers can call for a free airport shuttle to the terminal, said Mike Hogan, public affairs administrator for the Port of Bellingham, which operates the airport.
Buses might go all the way to the terminal, if the route proves popular, Nicholson said.
As part of adding airport service, stops along Cottonwood Avenue were eliminated from Route 3, Nicholson said. “Almost nobody was using it,” he said. “It just cost us time.”
Other changes will be affecting service in Birch Bay and Blaine, where service was modified using extensive community input, he said.
“It’s a challenging area for us to serve efficiently,” Nicholson said. “I think that once people get used to it, people will appreciate it.”
Service information was corrected March 8, 2017.