When people visit the Washington State Fair in September, they will have another option for transportation.
Following several years of negotiations, fair organizers finalized an agreement on March 31 with Pierce Transit to bring back the express bus service.
“For many people, they don’t want the hassle of driving and parking,” fair spokesperson Karen LaFlamme said. “They may have taken a hiatus for a couple of years. We have already received a lot of emails from people that they’re excited for the return of the fair express service. A lot of our loyal guests will be returning.”
Due to budget cuts, Pierce Transit suspended the service after 2010. At its peak, the boarding was about 30,000 people. Some years, it reached as high as 53,000 boardings during the 17-day fair.
“We continued our talks with Pierce Transit over the years, and it took several years to bring the service back,” LaFlamme said. “We think what we’re offering guests is a good service for fairgoers, as well as employees of the fair.”
LaFlamme said the fair organizers contracted with a private transit provider in 2011. Costs per roundtrip were much higher than Pierce Transit at $3 to $4, she said.
“Pierce Transit is set up so well,” LaFlamme said. “It has buses that adapt to ADA needs, and we didn’t have that with this service. It didn’t meet our needs.”
Fair officials ended the contract after 2011. Bus service wasn’t available in 2012 or last year.
Pierce Transit spokesperson Carol Mitchell said negotiations to bring the service back to the fair began last year. At that point, Mitchell said Pierce Transit budgeted additional hours to support it. The Pierce Transit Board of Directors approved the service on March 10.
LaFlamme said the fair will spend $116,000 as a cost-sharing measure. Mitchell said that investment was crucial.
“We wouldn’t have it in the budget to do it at the level of service that they want,” Mitchell said.
So far, Pierce Transit has identified two fair express stations: the South Hill Mall and Lakewood Towne Center. From Sept. 5-21, the service will run hourly from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It will run every 30 minutes from 9:30 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.
Fares will be $2 for adults, 75 cents for youth ages 6 to 18, and free for those 5 and younger. Riders may use ORCA cards, if they have them.
Mitchell said Pierce Transit is working to identify a third express station in the north end of the agency’s service boundary.