Sometimes, the best things are free

February 23, 2010

By J.B. Wogan

Riders take advantage of Metro Transit’s bus route 200

King County Metro Transit’s 200 line isn’t perfect, as rider Kelly Boehlke is quick to point out.

“It’s either early or late. It’s rarely on time. Rarely,” she said.

As if to punctuate her point, the bus scheduled to arrive sometime after 12:47 p.m. idled up to Front Street by The Issaquah Press building at 12:44 p.m.

“See,” she said.

But most riders, Boehlke included, love the 200.

“I would recommend this bus to everybody,” said Larry Worthing, who commutes from Seattle by bus and then uses the 200 to get to work. Worthing is a sales rep for the Gilman Antique Gallery on Northwest Gilman Boulevard. “I have a car, but I don’t use it because I don’t need to.”

Worthing said the 200’s ridership community is a little more reserved than on some buses in Seattle, but he likes the people he meets in Issaquah.

“After awhile, people loosen up and socialize,” he said.

“The 200 is invaluable,” opined a rider who goes by the name of Po. Po said he rides the bus every day because it runs every half-hour and stops at a variety of commercial centers, giving him easy access to Target and several grocery stores.

“It runs so frequently, you can just window shop until the bus comes,” he said.

Another thing about the 200 is that it’s free, which makes it affordable to riders like Po who are homeless and can’t afford a car.

Anthony Robinson, one of the 200’s drivers, said several homeless people use the bus to get to church, where they receive free meals. Robinson said the free ridership makes his job less stressful. “

You don’t have the hassle of arguing with somebody about paying the fare,” he said.

Riders do seem friendly and relaxed.

Ruben Simpson, 17, takes the 200 in the afternoon. Simpson is enrolled at Issaquah High School and has access to an afternoon school bus that leaves campus at 2:45 p.m. He often wants to stay late to study or work out at the gym, so he uses the 200 to get back to his house near the Fred Meyer.

“It’s flexible,” Simpson said.

George Quimby, another 200 bus driver, has worked all sorts of routes over the years, but he picked this one last fall.

“It doesn’t have any hills on it,” he said, explaining that he was wary of icy patches after 2008’s snowstorm. “It’s a good route.”

The 200 bus is a 19-foot-long Champion Transit Van that seats 18 people. That’s almost 40 feet shorter than the standard articulated two-section buses often circulating through downtown Seattle. The shorter length makes for easier maneuvering, according to Quimby. One of the drawbacks of the Champion Transit Vans is that they aren’t equipped with Orca Card readers yet, Quimby said.

But that doesn’t matter on a route that doesn’t require payment. The route has proven popular, especially since expanding out to Fred Meyer in the East Lake Sammamish Center in February 2007, according to Rochelle Ogershok, a spokeswoman for King County Metro Transit. In the past decade, the route has averaged between 300 and 340 riders per day, Ogershok said. Each trip averages about nine riders.

“You fill it up at rush hour,” Quimby said. The 200 covers most of Issaquah’s valley floor, running from the Issaquah Community Center in downtown Issaquah to north Issaquah and Fred Meyer. It weaves by the Issaquah Public Library, the Issaquah Transit Center, Gilman Village, Issaquah Commons and Pickering Place along the way.

The route passes by most of the city’s retail centers, giving people easy access to grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores and more. Robinson said he sees a lot of riders using the bus to reach Fred Meyer and Target.

Jing Pecht, who works at the customer service desk at Fred Meyer, said the 200 has helped business a little bit. She said employees from nearby businesses, like the Siemens on Southeast 51st Street, use the 200 to shop.

“I don’t think it’s a big impact right now, but it’s probably a matter of advertising,” she said.

Metro Transit has plans to expand the route out to the Issaquah Highlands on one end and to the Talus neighborhood on the other, but those aren’t scheduled until 2011.

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