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Do you ride the bus? WTA may run more often to some areas

Helen Saunders uses the wheelchair ramp to get on a bus at the Whatcom Transportation Authority’s Bellingham station on Feb. 17, 2009. WTA has proposed several changes to the bus schedule that if passed would start in March 2017.
Helen Saunders uses the wheelchair ramp to get on a bus at the Whatcom Transportation Authority’s Bellingham station on Feb. 17, 2009. WTA has proposed several changes to the bus schedule that if passed would start in March 2017. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Changes are afoot for the Whatcom Transportation Authority’s bus schedule, and the agency wants to get feedback from the community.

The biggest changes include adding Sunday and evening service for Ferndale, Lynden, Sudden Valley and Lummi Reservation. Old Fairhaven Parkway would have its Sunday and evening service eliminated, while several other routes would see some reductions but would be covered by nearby routes.

Of the 29 proposed changes, 13 would result in expansion or new bus services.

If the changes make it through the public review process intact, the new service would start being rolled out in March 2017, said Maureen McCarthy, a spokeswoman for WTA.

Sunday and evening service outside Bellingham has been one of the top requests from riders in recent years, McCarthy said. The WTA offered Sunday and evening service in Bellingham until 2010, when voters narrowly rejected a sales tax increase. When that failed, WTA was forced to make cuts, eliminating the evening and Sunday service. Bellingham formed its own city transportation district and voters in the city approved a tax increase, so the service was restored in Bellingham in June 2011.

All of the changes mean WTA would spend about $1.5 million more per year than it does now, a change authorized by the WTA board. The WTA has some extra funds in its reserves because of several factors: Sales tax revenues have been coming in better than projected, fuel costs are down along with salaries and benefits costs. McCarthy said a steady stream of retirements has meant hiring new employees that start at the lower end of pay scales.

WTA policy requires it to maintain a little more than $10 million in designated reserves for operations, fleet replacement and capital projects. McCarthy said it has an additional $20 million in undesignated reserves.

“It’s these undesignated reserves we’ve been authorized to tap into in the coming years, with this expansion of service,” McCarthy said.

Here are some of the bigger changes under the plan:

Additions

Airport Way: New service would be added on weekdays and Saturdays.

Walmart: Service would be increased from every 90 minutes during the day to every 30 minutes during the day and every 60 minutes evenings and Sundays.

Lakeway Drive: Between downtown and Woburn Street, the number of trips would be increased.

Silver Beach: New service would be added on Northshore Drive and Britton Road on weekdays and Saturdays.

Blaine/Birch Bay: Service would increase on weekdays.

Reductions

Custer: Service would not be provided on Portal Way between Birch Bay-Lynden Road and Grandview Road. McCarthy said Route 70 needs to be streamlined to allow people to make their transfers at the Ferndale station.

Grandview Industrial Park: Service would not be provided to the industrial park. McCarthy said this is also a way to streamline Route 70; low ridership is also a factor.

Public meetings

Here are the public meetings WTA has scheduled for this proposal. There is also a public hearing period in September:

▪  5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 6, in the Bellingham Public Library at 210 Central Ave.

▪  6-8 p.m. Thursday, July 7, in the Lynden Public Library at 216 4th St.

▪  6-8 p.m. Monday, July 11, in the Deming Public Library at 5044 Mt. Baker Highway.

▪  6-8 p.m. Wednesday, July 13, in the Ferndale Senior Center at 1999 Cherry St.

More details about the proposed changes, meeting schedule and survey can be found at ridewta.com.

Article corrected on July 5 to reflect the fact Sunday and evening service has only been offered in Bellingham.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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