Pierce Transit adding on-demand van service to Gig Harbor

Posted on December 14th, 2023 By:

Gig Harbor residents soon will be able to dial up a Pierce Transit minivan ride to or from anywhere within the city limits.

The transit board on Dec. 12 approved a Gig Harbor Runner “microtransit” service that offers on-demand, door-to-door rides within a zone. It will begin on March 31. Gig Harbor is Pierce Transit’s sixth zone, joining Puyallup, Ruston, the tideflats, Spanaway and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“The agency has slowly been adding Runner zones as we have identified areas that don’t have robust transit service and/or it’s more difficult to run a regular 40-foot bus but people in that area still need transit options,” said spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet.

photo of a Pierce Transit Runner van

Runner vans can be hailed by using a smartphone app or calling a phone number. Photo courtesy of Pierce Transit

Pierce Transit’s Route 100 bus already runs hourly through the zone’s center, back and forth between the Purdy park and ride and the Tacoma Community College transfer center. It hits Uptown and Gig Harbor North shopping areas, downtown and the Kimball Drive park and ride.

Transit agency and city officials, who have been talking for years about expanding local service, initially explored branching out Route 100, particularly to TCC’s Gig Harbor campus and St. Anthony Hospital. There would be no safe place to stop at either site, however. Capital improvement costs and the line’s distance from the college made if financially unfeasible.

“We’re very appreciative of Pierce Transit collaborating with us and coming up with the (Runner) idea,” said City Administrator Katrina Knutson. “We believe it will provide more comprehensive service to more Gig Harbor residents to include places like the hospital — our biggest employer — and TCC, which is part of our school system.

“We have a lot of areas currently not served by transit. If you’re not on Route 100, you’re kind of out of luck. But with the Runner service, it will serve more people, which is our desire.”

TCC, St. Anthony need connections

Pierce Transit received several requests for service to TCC-Gig Harbor and St. Anthony.

“Pierce Transit recommended adding a Gig Harbor Runner zone to provide a new, vital transit connection to these and other important destinations, including jobs, education, shopping, medical appointments and more,” Japhet said. “The Gig Harbor Runner will also offer a new way to connect with local Route 100 bus service and Sound Transit Route 595, which can get riders into Tacoma and beyond.”

Route 595 is an express run between Purdy and Seattle with a stop at the Kimball Drive park and ride. Riders can take a Runner van to meet the bus at Purdy or Kimball. The vans can also meet up with Route 100 buses anywhere along the way. The Runner is considered a first- and last-mile connection between one’s starting point and other transit services.

Getting workers to jobs

Miriam Battson, Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, spoke to the transit board last month in support of Runner service, emphasizing its potential for transporting workers.

“Workforce is at the top of the mind of local Gig Harbor businesses,” she said. “When we have employees and future employees who don’t live on Route 100, it can be difficult if they rely on public transit to get to a job. Especially with the minimum wage increasing, businesses want to be able to have access to employees that take the bus. Gas prices have gone up. It just gives them an additional pool of employees to tap into.”

Battson also spoke in favor of safe options to travel to TCC-Gig Harbor and the hospital.

Students now hiking to TCC

TCC-Gig Harbor Dean Olga Inglebritson also urged the transit board last month to add the Runner service. Some students now must walk 1.3 miles between the Kimball Drive park and ride and school.

“I just explained this is a situation that impacts our students,” she described her testimony. “It’s over a mile from the Kimball park and ride and we have had students riding bikes and walking on the (Highway 16) overpass to come to our building and take classes.”

Students have dropped classes after finding the distance too far, she said.

Map of Pierce Transit Runner's Gig Harbor zone

Runner vans can only operate within Pierce Transit’s service boundaries, which is largely the Gig Harbor city limits. Map courtesy of Pierce Transit.

The college and transit agency began investigating a solution in 2019. Then COVID-19 shut down classes and talks. After they both resumed, agency officials made a presentation to the student government.

“They’re going to be very excited,” Inglebritson said of students. “The community is going to be excited. We have classes that go until 9 or 9:30 here. It’s going to be a huge difference.”

Book rides by phone or app

Residents can book rides from their phone by using a Pierce Transit Runner app or by calling a number. The app will show an approximate vehicle arrival time and tracks the ride in real time.

Riders might be grouped into a single van if rides are going to a similar location, helping to reduce wait times. ADA-accessible vans can fit three riders. Others can hold a few more.

Rides cost the same as a bus trip — $2 for adults, $1 for seniors and disabled persons, and free for youths 18 and younger. Cash isn’t accepted. The fare can be paid using an ORCA card, a daily or 30-day pass, or by using the transit app on a smartphone.

Limited to city boundaries

Runner is limited to the Gig Harbor city limits as Pierce Transit policy is for zones to maintain service only within the agency’s defined service boundaries, Japhet said. There is no end date.

Some Runner services are partially funded by grants, but the Gig Harbor zone will be included in Pierce Transit’s 2024 budget. The annual cost is estimated at $355,000.

“For now, the plan is to continue it as long as demand is adequate and funding is available,” Japhet said. “We believe there will be demand for Runner in Gig Harbor as this is a convenient service that serves areas not currently accessible via the regular bus on a set route. It also offers more robust service hours than Route 100. It will run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, which will be a great option for people who might be working late, taking later classes, etc.”