17,000 employees commute to this part of Pierce County. There’s no public transit

Thousands of employees in Sumner’s manufacturing and industrial center might get another option for commuting to and from work.

Sumner City Council members discussed the possibility of establishing a shuttle program for those employees during a council study session on July 25. A vote was not taken but most showed support for the proposal.

A formal proposal will be brought to the city’s Community Development Committee in August followed by a council decision in September. A six-month pilot project would start in fall 2022, community development director Ryan Windish wrote in an email.

“There’s a demand and there’s a need,” Windish told The News Tribune.

The manufacturing and industrial center houses a total of about 17,000 employees. Manufacturers such as REI, Amazon and Costco can be found in the area. The area currently does not have a transit line running through it.

Pierce Transit used to have buses running to and from the city but that ended in 2012, The News Tribune reported. The city has been considering the possibility of expanding transit service not only there but to other East Pierce County jurisdictions.

The proposed shuttle would run Monday through Friday and hold about 12 or more passengers per vehicle, Windish said during the July 25 meeting. The shuttle would run in the morning and afternoon, looping to and from the Sumner Sounder Station.

Yusen Logistics, REI and Sekisui Aerospace have expressed interest in the shuttle program, Windish said. One ride would cost $6 to $8 – the employer would decide if their employees would pay all, some or none of that.

There would be an app for riders to reserve a seat and track their ride, Windish said. The app also allows contactless boarding as well as rider customer support. The app is where they would pay their fare.

It would cost about $13,750 per month to run one shuttle. That totals $165,000 per year. The cost of the program would depend on how many people ride the shuttle. The city would pay for the program upfront and receive its reimbursement from the employers, Windish told The News Tribune.

The city would pay $3,550 per month if 1,700 employees, or 10 percent of the 17,000 total employees in the area, ride the shuttle per month. Only $10,200 per month would be collected from fares, less than the $13,750 needed to run the shuttle.

The city would make a profit of $6,650 if 3,400 employees, or 20 percent, ride the shuttle. This amount of ridership would bring in $20,400 per month in fares.

Many employees that work in the area use public transit to commute to work, Windish said. They arrive at the Sumner Sounder Station and walk or bike a mile or two.

Temporary employees in particular can lose their jobs if they arrive late to work, Windish said. Employers are “pretty strict” about it, he said.

“When you talk to the employers in the north end, they will tell you they have temporary employees and full-time employees who sometimes have difficulty getting to work on time because of their transit situation or lack thereof,” Windish said.

Council member Earle Stuard said during the July 25 meeting he supports the whole concept but does not think the city needs to get into “the transportation business.”

“I just think it’s a big apple, and we don’t need to take a big bite out of that apple,” Stuard said during the meeting. “If the businesses want it, let them … organize this.”

Council member Barbara Bitetto said during the meeting the shuttle program might help take drivers off of state Route 167 and lessen traffic if they have another opportunity to get to and from the manufacturing and industrial center.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Bitetto said during the meeting. “I think it’s worth exploring.”

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.