Getting around Longview and Kelso by bus is about to get faster and more convenient.
On Aug. 19, RiverCities Transit’s redesigned bus route service will make its debut, featuring earlier operating hours, shorter waits between buses, an expansion into East Kelso and new stops in front of local high schools.
The route enhancements, which have been in the works for four years, will feel “familiar yet different,” Transit Manager Corey Aldridge said Monday. The goal was to create more connection opportunities throughout the routes and allow riders to travel faster throughout the communities, he said.
“It makes the buses a more appealing option,” Aldridge said.
One of the first things riders will notice is all the route numbers are different. All routes that start with a 3 serve only Longview. Routes that start with a 5 serve only Kelso. Routes that start with a 4 travel between Longview and Kelso.
Currently, RiverCities Transit’s six routes run every 60 minutes. With the route changes, two of the Longview routes (31 and 32) will run every 30 minutes during peak service hours of 6:30 - 9 a.m. and 12:30 - 6 p.m. Route 45 will run every 40 minutes between Longview and Kelso. The express route (44) and both Kelso routes (56 and 57) will continue to run once an hour.
Here are some of the other changes to come:
• All routes will begin at 6:30 a.m. (they now begin at 7 a.m.) and start at the outskirts of town and work inward.
• Two routes will stop at R.A. Long and Mark Morris high schools.
• Four routes will stop at Lower Columbia College.
• Kelso will have two bus lines that will stay in Kelso rather than cross into Longview and come back. The buses will run in opposite directions on the same loop.
• Kelso’s easternmost service boundary will be Corduroy Road, rather than Bates Road, which will make bus service more accesisble to the Brookhollow mobile home park.
• Buses will stop in front of Kelso High School, whereas now, students must get off at 17th Street on the north side, cross the street and walk several blocks to school.
• Four routes will stop at the Kelso Train Depot, where riders can connect with Amtrak, Greyhound and Columbia County Rider service.
The new route system, which required adding more drivers and buses, will increase RiverCities Transit’s operating costs by $750,000 a year. 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.
It’s high time for a change, said Aldridge, noting that most transit systems make route changes yearly. Prior to the introduction of a West Longview-to-East Kelso express route in April, the Longview-Kelso bus service had remained mostly unchanged since the late 1970s.
From now on, though, RiverCities Transit plans to make route changes every year based on ridership data provided by a recently purchased “intelligent transportation system” that will help transit staff determine where to increase and decrease service.