Mountain dwellers Squak for transit bus service

September 23, 2008

By Jon Savelle

Squak Mountain residents who long for bus service, take heart. The city is exploring options for exactly that.

At a Sept. 11 meeting of the Council Transportation Committee, Transportation Manager Gary Costa outlined some ideas. These include adding to the Route 200 circulator bus; adding to the Metro Route 927 bus, which now runs from Sammamish to downtown Issaquah; starting a dial-a-ride service; starting a ride-share van service; and establishing a “good neighbor” carpooling organization.

Each option has its good and bad points, and none has been analyzed in detail. But at first glance, certain issues were obvious.

The 200 bus, for example, would appear to be an obvious solution — except that serving Squak would entail adding one or two loop routes to the existing service, or trading some existing service for new. There would be a cost of $135,000 annually to Metro and unknown costs to the city; at the moment, the city gets a deal by paying Metro only the farebox revenues the agency would collect if the 200 were not free to riders.

That outlay is just $35,000 annually, noted Councilman Fred Butler.

Extending the 927 bus also would be convenient to Squak residents, Costa said. And while it is not a free service for riders, and therefore, the city would not have to pay equivalent farebox revenues, Metro’s willingness to provide the service is not known. What is known is that the full-size buses on the 927 route would not be a good match for Squak’s topography, and providing 12-hour daily service would cost the agency $200,000 per year.

The other options are simpler, cheaper and easier to implement. And they may work well enough for Squak residents, some of whom attended the committee meeting to hear and contribute to the discussion.

“I represent mothers with kids,” said Squak resident Heather Ross, who regularly travels with two children in a stroller. “I’m willing to walk down the hill to do errands, but I can’t get back up the hill. I would be willing to pay to go up that hill.”

Her interest was shared by Councilwoman Eileen Barber, a 30-year resident of Squak Mountain. She said it seems as though the urban villages are getting preferential treatment when it comes to transportation.

“I see the Highlands and Talus getting service, but we’re not,” she said.

“That’s how I see it, too,” Ross chimed in.

Costa said the dial-a-ride option would be a matter of establishing bus stops and call boxes on Squak routes, to which the 200 bus would respond when called. If not called, the bus would stick to its regular route.

Dial-a-ride was tried here before, said resident Hank Thomas. The service isn’t as extensive as it used to be — Thomas said it is limited to fixed routes — and he believes it is not cost effective.

VanPool is a Metro service that is available now, Costa said. It requires a group of at least five people to commit to using the Metro van, which would run between Squak Mountain and the transit center on state Route 900 at Maple Street Northwest.

The option that attracted the most interest, however, was the “good neighbor” carpooling idea. Used successfully in New York City, San Francisco and other cities, the arrangement requires only establishing places for would-be riders to gather and wait for a willing driver to pick them up.

Butler suggested the city could provide shelters for the riders, but he also noted a significant drawback to the good-neighbor idea.

“That’s sort of hit or miss,” he said. “You don’t want to stand there all day, and there are no good neighbors.”

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