Clallam Transit sees large rise in ridership

The Clallam Transit System saw a big jump in ridership last month, according to General Manager Jim Fetzer, but it was too early to tell if those numbers were a result of the new zero-fare pilot program that kicked in Jan 1.

Fetzer told the board on Feb. 20 that the system recorded 53,486 passenger trips on its fixed-route service in January 2024 compared with 43,401 passenger trips in January 2023 — an increase of about 23%.

Ridership on paratransit in January 2024 was about 26% higher compared with the same month last year, and ridership on the interlink microtransit service in Forks and Sequim was 125% higher.

The Strait Shot service that runs between the Gateway Transit Center in Port Angeles and Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal does not fall under the zero-fare policy, but it experienced its best month ever in January with 1,180 riders compared with 865 the same month last year, representing a 36% increase.

“We’re getting back on track; 2019 was our highest year and we’re getting close to that,” Fetzer said.

There were some reservations among drivers when the zero-fare policy was implemented due to concerns about attracting people who wanted to ride the bus all day and increasing incidents of bad behavior, but that hasn’t happened, said Rick Burton, the drivers’ representative on the board.

“We haven’t had any issues. It’s actually cut down on issues,” Burton said. “There’s a lot of new faces, so that’s good.”

Clallam County Commissioner and board member Mark Ozias said the significant jump in ridership stood out to him.

“It’s great to see and it’s great to hear that, in addition to the numbers increasing, that so far it’s been a positive experience from staff’s perspective,” Ozias said.

“I don’t know if it makes sense to set targets, but at minimum, it might be worth a little thought at least to make sure we’ve identified what we should be paying attention to. There’s absolutely more than just ridership numbers.”

Fetzer said he agreed and that staff would put together information for the board to review at its next meeting March 20.

Support for the fare-free program and fare-free policy for riders 18 and younger came from a $1.9 million Move Ahead Washington grant funded by the state’s 2021 Climate Commitment Act. An initiative that will likely appear on November’s ballot would repeal the act.

“If it’s repealed, we would lose that funding,” Fetzer said.

Clallam Transit is considering adding an additional round trip for each of the two buses on the popular summer Hurricane Ridge Shuttle and cutting back its operation to June, July and August rather than running through September, when ridership dropped sharply. Fetzer said he would be meeting with Olympic National Park Service staff and developing a proposal for the board to consider.

In other news from the meeting:

• Clallam Transit has struggled with recruiting and retaining drivers, but it had filled all of its open paratransit positions, said human resources manager Barb Cox; it is still recruiting fixed-route drivers.

• Maintenance worker Brett McCallister was named employee of the fourth quarter of 2023.

• The board unanimously approved a motion declaring March 18, 2024, transit driver appreciation day to acknowledge the work of the transit system’s fixed route and paratransit operators.