Sunday service has returned to Grays Harbor Transit, as well as extended services throughout the county and beyond that were cut during a financial crisis in 2013.
“We had a big reduction in 2013 and cut all weekend services,” said Patti Carlin, Grays Harbor Transit operations manager. “We brought back Saturday service last year, then started up limited Sunday service. This time (in early May) we upped the Saturday and Sunday service to match our weekday service.”
Grays Harbor Transit has also recently increased its number of trips to Olympia, Ocean Shores and Lake Quinault, said Carlin.
Funding is the driving factor for the extent of transit services in and outside the county. The bulk of funding comes from sales taxes, said Carlin, with limited operating grants that make up a “very low amount” of the transit’s funding.
When it comes to services, public input plays a great role in the decisions Grays Harbor Transit’s board of directors make, said Carlin.
“We always invite public input, and invite our passengers to come to us,” she said, adding that their staff of 50-plus drivers are encouraged to speak with passengers to get their thoughts on what can be done to improve their experiences on the fleet’s 29 coaches.
The expansion of services includes trips to Centralia.
“We are now going to Centralia Monday through Friday,” said Carlin. She said a large number of students commute from the area to go to college there, and many casino and Great Wolf Lodge employees take advantage of the service. Passengers can also link up with Amtrak train services there.
Another new addition is a shuttle service from the Elma transit center to the Satsop Business Park. The park has seen burgeoning employment over the past year, so Grays Harbor Transit is testing a daily run there to see if demand makes it worth continuing.
Continuing is the dial-a-ride service, available to everyone, which will take a person anywhere within their designated town the same day a ride is requested. Dial-a-ride services are available in Elma, Montesano, Ocean Shores and Westport and the fare is $1, as it is for most of Grays Harbor Transit’s other routes.
Carlin praised her drivers and also the agency’s maintenance team. Calling the maintenance crew “the best.” She said a large number of their coaches have up to 450,000 miles on their chassis and are on their third or fourth engine change. Drivers frequently move up from working as a clerk in a transit center to taking the wheel, said Carlin.
“The driver we’ve had the longest has been with us 37 years,” she said, adding retirement has taken a handful of 30-year employees out of the ranks recently. “They come here to work and retire from here.” She herself has worked with Grays Harbor Transit for 24 years.
Transit has just started a training program to allow employees to get their Commercial Driver’s License, commonly known as a CDL. So far five have passed their tests “with flying colors,” said Carlin.
Drivers are continually trained throughout the year, said Carlin. The safety of the drivers is always paramount, so recently a self defense from the seated position component was added. It teaches drivers that they can defend themselves from an attack despite the fact they are seated and their only route of escape and defense is in one direction, toward the front door.
To Carlin’s knowledge, there has only been one serious attack on a driver, and in that instance the driver was indeed able to not only defend himself but safely stop the bus on the side of the road and boot the unruly rider out the door. That was before there were cameras on the buses, which are now standard equipment on the coaches.
Drivers are trained quarterly, and Carlin admits she “memos them to death” with reminders ranging from customer service to remembering to stay fully hydrated during hot weather.
A handful of new additions are coming to the fleet, thanks to a couple of million dollars in state capital budget funds, which is funding new coaches. Those new coaches, however, take a full two years to get so they won’t be operational until about 2020. But in recent years, more upgrades have been made to existing coaches, such as USB charging stations in many of them.
Grays Harbor Transit has also added a mobile app to make purchasing bus passes easier. A pass can be purchased using a credit or debit card at tokentransit.com or by texting the word TOKEN to 41411 from any Apple or Android phone, and the pass is visible on your smartphone. Passes can also still be purchased at the Aberdeen and Hoquiam stations, at the administration office at 705 30th Street in Hoquiam, and at any Timberland Library branch in the county with a check or cash.
“We also let kids ride free in the summer if they have a Timberland Library card,” said Carlin.
For a full rundown of services, fares and schedules, visit ghtransit.com or call 360-532-2770 or toll free 800-562-9730.