Transit eyeing fall for full, 7-day service

Grays Harbor Transit is looking to restore weekend services later this year, but not in time for summer. With some obstacles to overcome, administrators said during the Grays Harbor Transit Authority (GHTA) board meeting this week that they hope to offer a full service schedule by September.

The Board of Directors is made up of the three county commissioners plus the mayors of Aberdeen, Elma, and Ocean Shores. The board is also a taxing authority that covers the entire county and collects a portion of sales tax used to offset the costs to provide bus services. The topic of restoring weekend service was on the agenda because Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler had asked the board to consider weekends in her city by this summer. She said the hotel/motel industry is trying to hire more employees and expecting that transportation is one of the obstacles keeping application numbers down.

“In reality, the revenue we collect comes from the entire county,” said General Manager Ken Mehin, “it’s really not proper for us to spend the funds on one location.”

Administrators also discussed requesting clarification from the state relating to COVID emergency legislation that could allow the transit to offer services to the coastal communities before rolling it out to others. But administrators noted that the amount of staff needed for weekend service is almost the same if they offer services to the entire county or just the coastal communities.

The fight to keep weekends

The weekend service was cut completely in 2013 to help balance the transit’s budget, it was restored by 2017 and then cut again in March of 2020 in response to COVID restrictions on travel. The transit’s ridership report shows a drastic drop in the number of people riding the bus between last March and April, which is about the time that the pandemic was influencing travel.

Mehin said this week that the first two months of 2020 saw around 74,000 riders per month, March ridership dropped to 60,000 and then April dropped to 28,000. The rest of 2020 bounced between 20,000 and 36,000 riders. Numbers so far this year have been pretty much the same.

“We’re still below 50% of the ridership compared to early last year,” said Mehin. He told the board that the transit’s van pool numbers have also been down since the pandemic, and suggested that the hotels in coastal communities coordinate the use of the transit’s van pool services to fill the void.

Transit will be hiring

“We would need to hire about 14 staff members in order to have enough operators to provide the full level of service seven days a week,” Operations Manager Teri Gardner said. A to-do list for ramping up services includes hiring a dispatcher, mechanics, administrators and drivers, Gardner said, adding, not just any drivers, “they need to have their CDL with their class B passenger endorsement. We are testing right now for candidates.”