Community Government Transportation

Gig Harbor trolley running Thursdays, Saturdays again

Posted on May 29th, 2024 By:

The Pierce Transit trolley will return to Gig Harbor two days a week this summer.

Two years ago, a pandemic-created nationwide driver shortage forced Pierce Transit to suspend trolley service, which began in 2013. Last spring, when insufficient staffing continued to prevent full restoration, the agency asked local business leaders which two days would be most beneficial. They chose Thursdays to serve the busy farmers market and Saturdays to assist with tourism-related travel.

It begins July 6

Service will remain the same this year as the operator drought persists. A 30-foot bus wrapped as a red trolley will begin operating on July 6 and continue through Aug. 31, according to Pierce Transit Communications Manager Rebecca Japhet. It will run hourly from 3:05 p.m. to 9:03 p.m. Thursdays and from 11:40 a.m. to 6:28 p.m. Saturdays. (The farmers market starts at 1 p.m., but due to the driver shortage trolleys won’t be available until 3.)

A 30-foot bus wrapped to look like a trolley car will run through Gig Harbor starting in July.

A 30-foot bus wrapped to look like a trolley car will run through Gig Harbor starting in July. Pierce Transit photo

The route will shuttle between Uptown and Gig Harbor North via the downtown waterfront district. See the graphics for the route, stops and timetables. Bus stops remain signed from previous service.

“Last year worked well,” said Gig Harbor City Administrator Katrina Knutson. “We had a lot of usage both days.”

Hoping for full restoration

That doesn’t suggest Gig Harbor isn’t pushing to extend the schedule. It continues to advocate for full trolley service from Memorial Day through Labor Day in future years, Knutson said.

“We’re requesting to look at all options that would be beneficial to both Pierce Transit and the city,” she said. “We expect to hear by mid-summer what that is like for next year.”

The trolley route

The trolley route Courtesy of Pierce Transit

Pierce Transit’s new Gig Harbor Runner vans, which debuted on March 31, buttress the trolley this year. Like an Uber ride at transit prices, the vans can be hailed by phone or computer for door-to-door transport within the agency’s service area, which mirrors Gig Harbor’s city limits plus a sliver of land extending north that encompasses the Purdy park-and-ride lot.

Runner vans will help

Almost 200 people boarded the Runner in its first 33 days of service, Japhet said. Transit expects that number to grow as people find out about the service and try it out.

Customers, who are asked to take a short survey after rides, gave the service an average rating of 4.95 out of five stars, Japhet said. The average wait time between a ride request and arrival was about 9.5 minutes.

“Though Pierce Transit has not brought the trolley back to our requested level, they did implement Gig Harbor Runner, which is having fantastic ridership,” Knutson said. “We’re hoping to receive full trolley service next summer, but we’re thankful for Runner, which runs every day within the city, not just during peak season.

photo of a Pierce Transit Runner van

Runner vans can be hailed by using a smartphone app or calling a phone number.

“From the community’s perspective, it’s a bummer to not have the trolley running seven days a week. With Runner being seven days a week and with the ridership numbers they’ve been having, we think that will fill some of the gap.”

Gig Harbor is fortunate to have Runner service, Knutson said. Only six zones in the county have the on-demand service.

“Gig Harbor isn’t laid out in a grid format conducive to multiple bus routes,” she said. “I do think Runner is not only efficient for Pierce Transit but greatly beneficial to us.”

Take a trolley tour

Carrianne Ekberg, executive director of the Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance, echoed Knutson.

“I do remember it was really helpful and it gave people an alternative for the farmer’s market,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun if people want to grab their families and take a trolley tour for the day.

“We’re excited to have (Runner) as an option as well and will be promoting that and sharing that all summer for alternative transportation. Hopefully the trolley will be able to run more and more often in the future.”

Pierce Transit will charge regular bus prices for the trolley, Japhet said. Adult fares are $2 and youths 18 and younger are free. Seniors 65 and older, disabled people and Medicaid card holders can ride for $1. Runner fares are the same.

In past years, adults paid 50 cents for the trolley, the discount subsidized by the city and local organizations. Like last year, there will be no discount this summer.

Streetcars in the works

Pierce Transit originally ran actual trolley cars on the route but retired them. Riders like the old look and feel of the streetcars over the wrapped buses, Knutson said. Pierce Transit purchased new trolley cars last year. They are still being modified to full Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

“Work around the ADA requirement retrofits is fairly complex and is still ongoing,” Japhet said.

Fares, like with most transit agencies, only cover a portion of Pierce Transit’s operating costs. Gig Harbor business customers pay a .6% sales tax — 6 cents on a $10 purchase — to help support the service.

Looking for more drivers

The driver shortage continues to affect Pierce Transit’s ability to provide many special services, such as the Gig Harbor trolley, Japhet said. It’s unable to provide service at all to the Tacoma July 4 celebration on the waterfront and to Taste of Tacoma, as it had in the past. The agency keeps chipping away at the problem, starting new classes of about 20 operator trainees every four to six weeks.

“The challenge comes in the fact that we have an aging workforce and many operators are retiring, plus some are moving on to other positions in the agency,” Japhet said. “We will continue hiring and building our operator workforce back as quickly as we can.”

During 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, about 16,000 people rode the Gig Harbor trolley.