At 11 a.m. last Thursday, Alice Gilbert hopped on the Puyallup Connector Route 425 from a stop along Meridian near the South Hill Mall. She flashed to bus driver Doug Brown her promotional pass — a pass distributed by Pierce Transit to all residents of Puyallup within a 1/2 mile of a stop that is good for unlimited trips on any route during the last two weeks of June.
Asked what she loves about the new Puyallup Connector, Gilbert replied: “It goes right to my door.”
Gilbert, a resident of the Senior Housing Assistance Group (SHAG) community Sunset Garden off 27th Avenue Southeast in Puyallup, is one of dozens of seniors known to populate the three 25-foot-long shuttle buses that make up the Puyallup Connector Route 425.
Gilbert’s comment that Route 425 brings her right to her door is the sort of marketing slogan that organizers of the Puyallup Connector hope will resonate with riders.
Last fall, a group of Puyallup stakeholders came up with the idea as an innovative service solution that would serve the purpose of connecting residents to areas of shopping, health care appointments and special events, such as concerts in Pioneer Park and the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. Route stops are right at the door step, like at Sunset Garden, Good Samaritan Hospital, the South Hill Mall and Fred Meyer.
“The clientele that might frequent this (route) are those going right to the door of Fred Meyer, Good Samaritan (hospital) or Walmart,” Brown said.
Brown said it’s especially handy for people with physical challenges, who can’t walk long distances and where a traditional bus route isn’t conducive to their needs.
“The other day a woman seven-months pregnant heading to a doctor appointment boarded the bus,” Brown said. “She said, ‘I wish I would’ve known about you earlier.’”
At the time, the connector just started days before.
The Puyallup Connector started serving riders June 8. The one-year demonstration project will run through June 7, 2015. Hours of operation through Sept. 27 are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with hours extending until 9 p.m. on Thursday to accommodate Thursday night concerts at Pioneer Park. Saturday hours begin early at 9 a.m. to accommodate the Puyallup Farmers’ Market. Beginning Sept. 28 through June 7 of next year, the regular hours Monday through Sunday will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Brown, who has worked for Pierce Transit for going on 33 years, volunteered to drive the route. He said there is a difference in driving a shuttle versus a large standard bus.
“There is a little more one-on-one — getting to know the people,” Brown explained. “The shuttle feels more personable. That first week, (people) were riding (the route) just to see where it went. So you visit with them and answer their questions.”
During the first week run of the Puyallup Connector there were 365 riders, said Tina Lee, the service innovation administrator for Pierce Transit.
“It’s a decent number,” Lee said. “We didn’t meet our goal yet.”
During the first week, peak ridership was on Friday, June 14 when 95 people rode the route. So far, Lee said the busiest stops along the route are at the South Hill Mall, SHAG, Fred Meyer, Good Samaritan and near the Walmart by Bradley Lake.
“We’re seeing a lot of seniors using it in general,” Lee said. “SHAG residents are really embracing it.”
Pierce Transit has a weekly target goal of about 1,100 riders during the first six months of service.
“That comes to about 10 passengers per service hour,” she said.
Officials are hoping the promotional pass will help to increase the numbers. Already riders are asking for more stops to be added to the service, Lee explained.
“It’s a balancing act,” she said. “It’s a fixed route and it’s on a time schedule. The beauty of the demonstration is we give ourselves that allowance to make it better. We’re trying constantly to improve it over the next year.”
During weekdays, Lee said there are three buses on the route. On weekends there are two buses.
“When we planned it, we planned for two,” Lee said. “But when we were out doing route training, we discovered traffic was heavier so we decided to have three.”
If the schedule can be adjusted to make it work better, it’s possible the third bus during the weekdays will be taken out, she said.Andrew Fickes: 253-552-7001 andrew.fickes @puyallupherald.com Twitter: @herald_andrew