Pierce Transit considers eliminating hundreds of bus stops in hopes of faster service

Pierce Transit is considering the elimination of 407 bus stops — nearly 20% — across Pierce County in an effort to make bus travel more efficient. First, it wants to hear from riders.

The transit agency pitched the plan, called Bus Stop Balancing, to the Tacoma City Council on Tuesday. Some 212 of the proposed retired stops would be within the city’s boundaries. The agency currently serves 2,114 stops.

The goal is to speed up bus service and produce cost savings that could lead to more service, said Pierce Transit spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet.

Slow service is one of the main reasons people cite when asked why they don’t use public transit, Japhet said.

“It takes too long to get there,” she said.

Bus transit services have a natural tendency to increase stops over the years as agencies respond to customer requests, Japhet said. That comes with a price.

“It really does slow down a transit system when you add bus stops,” she said. It takes time for buses to slow, stop, let passengers on and off in smaller groups and pull back into traffic.

Managers at Pierce Transit couldn’t recall when the agency last fully audited its system, Japhet said. Staff spent much of 2020 examining every stop across the county.

This week, Pierce Transit went public with the proposal and invited the public to weigh in.

Each stop has been evaluated for:

▪ Ridership.

▪ Proximity to other stops.

▪ Infrastructure (wheelchair access, shelter, etc.)

▪ Lighting and safety.

▪ Nearby destinations such as health care providers and schools.

▪ Transfers to other lines.

While able-bodied users might not balk at a station elimination, people with disabilities might have to travel further if stations are eliminated. Japhet said the agency is mindful of those concerns.

Some routes appear to be bloated with stops. In a mile-long section of Route 45, which travels along South Yakima Avenue, 21 north and south traveling stops pepper the route.

Drivers and other staff are not in danger of losing their jobs, Japhet said. Riders are not in danger or losing popular stops.

“If it’s really busy, it’s staying,” she said.

Public comment is open through April 11, and Japhet said the agency expects some of the stations proposed to be eliminated will be retained.

Downtown On the GO, a Tacoma transportation advocacy organization, is encouraging the public to make their voices heard regarding the proposal, said Laura Svancarek, the non-profit’s commute trip reduction and advocacy coordinator.

“Look at the routes and let Pierce Transit know if these changes impact you,” she said.

Svancarek said her group doesn’t oppose the intent of the plan, but she hopes Pierce Transit is considering less obvious concerns such as walking distances between adjoining routes, stops on Tacoma’s steep hills and other accessibility concerns.

“We are certainly going to be be asking more questions and looking into that,” she said. “We’re concerned how reductions can impact equitable access to transportation and services.”

Pierce Transit is in the process of posting customized signs at each bus stop on the proposed closure list. The signs inform of the possible closure and lists nearby stations.

A map on the agency’s website shows all of Pierce Transit’s bus stops and which ones have been tagged for closure. Users can click on single routes to eliminate clutter on the map.

Japhet said the agency is conducting outreach to groups that represent people with disabilities, people of color and other populations that might be disproportionately affected by the closures.

The stops would be removed sometime in September, Japhet said.

The savings in time could lead to more bus service, but Japhet could not guarantee that.

The agency is also listening to its bus drivers.

“They know their customers,” Japhet said. “That’s something statistics can’t show you.”

Route 1 is the only route not being evaluated for stop closures because much of it will be serviced by the agency’s new Bus Rapid Transit system beginning in 2024.

The agency serves 13 cities and towns and parts of unincorporated Pierce County.

This story was originally published on The News Tribune.