A nationwide bus driver shortage will force Pierce Transit to suspend trolley service this summer, though the regular Gig Harbor Route 100 will continue to cover much the same ground.
The buses on Route 100 will look like trolleys, though.
Since 2013, the transit agency has shuttled trolley cars, or buses wrapped to look like them, from the Uptown Gig Harbor shopping center through the downtown waterfront district to Gig Harbor North. The city has subsidized the cost to allow adult fares to be reduced from the regular $2 to 50 cents.
The service costs Pierce Transit about $300,000 to operate, but it only expects to recover the 16 percent that a $2 fare would typically bring in. The city has offset the difference between the regular and discount ticket prices. That $50,000 cost has been split between Gig Harbor and organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Waterfront Alliance, Uptown business district, The Inn at Gig Harbor and Heron’s Key retirement community.
This summer, there won’t be enough bus drivers for both the trolley route (101) and the regular Gig Harbor route (100) that runs from Tacoma Community College through Gig Harbor to the Purdy park-and-ride lot.
The city and civic groups usually chip in nearly $50,000 to cut fares from $2 to 50 cents, but there will be no discounts this summer.
“Unfortunately, we are unable to run trolley service this summer,” said Pierce Transit spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet. “We are making adjustments to Route 100 because we’re unable to provide actual trolley service.”
The agency is adding one stop to Route 100, at the Uptown shopping center.
“We realized that for people who rode the trolley, it was popular to go to Uptown,” Japhet said. “Route 100 didn’t serve the specific area where the trolley did, so we added that stop. There were some stops on the trolley on Burnham Drive and Point Fosdick (Drive) that are not served with Route 100, but we’re not making any other changes. People will have access to almost all of the same stops that they would’ve had with the trolley.”
The change will be made beginning on June 12.
There will be no discounted fares this summer. Regular prices are $2 for adults, and $1 for youths 6 to 18, seniors 65 and older and people with disabilities. Kids 5 and younger ride for free with a fare-paying passenger. As there will be no cut rates or separate trolley service, the city and civic groups won’t need to contribute.
Pierce Transit offered to operate coaches wrapped to look like trolleys on Route 100, and the city accepted.
“We realize that the trolley is part of a treasured summer tradition in Gig Harbor,” Japhet said. “While we won’t be able to provide trolley service, at least people will be able to see the trolleys around town.”
Trolley service began in 2013 as a demonstration project. It has continued since as an annual agreement between the city and Pierce Transit. It was shut down due to Covid-19 in 2020 but returned last year with COVID protocols in place. During the last normal year, 2019, it attracted about 16,000 riders.
Buses operating on the regular Route 100 will be wrapped to look like trolley cars.
Because of the nationwide driver shortage, Pierce Transit decreased the frequency of five local routes in November. Drivers are working overtime to provide as many trips as possible. The agency hired two new recruiters and launched a robust driver recruitment campaign. It plans to restore service as soon as staffing levels allow, including Gig Harbor trolleys next summer.
“That’s our hope,” Japhet said. “It’s really unfortunate. We regret that this has to happen. We do have an operator shortage and we’re working hard to fix that. I know it’s been a wonderful partnership over many years and we’re disappointed we’re not going to be able to provide the service this year and we very much hope to be able to provide it next year.”
The city is in discussions with Pierce Transit about the future of trolley service and possible enhancements. It will be the topic of a City Council study session on June 30.
“Pierce Transit is a great partner for the city,” said Gig Harbor spokeswoman Laura Pettitt. “We are all for things that get people out of cars and moving throughout town.”
The Route 100 schedule can be viewed at www.piercetransit.org/route-100-gig-harbor/.
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