RiverCities Transit is launching an express route bus service Monday that will take riders from West Longview to Kelso’s Three Rivers Mall in under half an hour.
“Right now, it can take an hour to two hours, so we’re trying to speed that up,” RiverCities Transit Manager Corey Aldridge said this week.
The express route is the first service enhancement the transit system has offered in 15 years, he said. The goal is to make the bus more appealing to “choice riders” — people who have a vehicle but ride the bus by choice, he said.
The express bus will take 24 minutes to travel from West Longview, just east of Coal Creek Road, to the Kelso mall, a distance of nearly 7 miles. The first stop of the day will be at Ocean Beach Highway and 28th Avenue at 7 a.m. The last stop will be at the same place at 6:58 p.m. Heading west, the bus will pass Mount Solo Road and turn around just after the Heron Pointe Estates entrance, where the transit authority recently built a turnaround.
The bus won’t stop at the transit center at all. Riders can make connections with other buses along the route. In Kelso, the bus will pass the Train Depot, which has Amtrak train service and serves as a Greyhound bus stop. A new bus stop will be added in Longview on Washington Way near the Jack in the Box restaurant.
Until the fleet of 5 new buses arrives at the end of June, the express route will run every hour rather than half hour so two spare buses will be available if there’s a mechanical problem, Aldridge said.
In August, RiverCities will add new routes and tweak existing ones. (The changes are still being finalized.) Transit officials hope the new routes will attract more middle school and high school students. Aldridge said recent studies have revealed a nationwide trend of teenagers delaying getting their drivers’ licenses after they turn 16.
“If we can grab those who have that choice and teach them to use the bus system and get them acclimated, they could be our future riders,” he said.
Other changes are coming, too: instead of all buses leaving the transit center at 7 a.m., they’ll be at their first stops at 7 a.m. and arrive at the transit center at different times. That way if one route is delayed, it doesn’t set all the routes back, which is what happens under the existing system with all transfers happening at the transit center.
By 2014, RiverCities will have doubled its service, Aldridge said.
The improvements are being paid for partly by revenue from the two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase voters approved in 2008 to rescue the financially sinking bus system. RiverCities’ total sales tax is now three-tenths of 1 percent, or 3 cents on a $10 purchase.
“The public passed the sales tax increase to provide more service, and we’re going to put more service out there,” Aldridge said. “It’s taking a lot longer than the public had hoped, but it’s coming this year, and more next year. We’re looking at providing the maximum amount of service that will allow the public to move about the community the easiest.”