New Yakima-Ellensburg transit service quickly becoming the talk of two towns

Passengers prepare to board the Yakima-Ellensburg
 Commuter, a new transit service connecting the two cities.
by guest blogger Jef Lucero

One rider is heading to the hospital for her daily outpatient appointment, thankful that her husband doesn’t have to take time off from work to drive her there. Another is a soldier in the 53rd Ordnance Company, on his way to the training and firing center just outside Selah. Behind him sit two students - one enrolled at Perry Technical College, the other at Yakima Valley Community College, both making their way home after class. The return trip will deliver three students and two professors to the Central Washington University campus. And there’s the rider that just booked a dialysis appointment - he’d been waitlisted at his regular doctor’s office in Ellensburg, but can get in today at a Yakima clinic.

These are just a few of the people enjoying a new option that wasn’t available a month ago, thanks to a brand new commuter transit service between Yakima and Ellensburg. The service is fast becoming a reliable option, meeting the needs of many in two communities not previously connected by public transportation.

On November 25, Yakima Transit and HopeSource unveiled the Yakima Ellensburg Commuter, filling an essential transportation need for both communities. Making eight round trips daily, the service makes five stops between the Yakima airport and the Central Washington campus. According to Yakima Transit Manager Ken Mehin, students and faculty at the three colleges between the two cities favor the morning and late afternoon runs; shoppers shuttling between towns prefer the midday service.

But, Mehin adds, ride along on a given day and you’re likely to share the trip with a number of different people on their way to a wide range of personal and professional business. "As word has spread of the service, the community hasn’t just taken notice," says Mehin, "they’ve responded." In fact, ridership has gone up so fast that Yakima Transit will purchase new, larger vehicles in early 2012 to accommodate the increasing demand.

Because Yakima Transit’s authority extends just past its city limits, so too does its service area. But a strong public-private partnership with HopeSource allowed the idea to move forward. With HopeSource providing drivers and route operation and Yakima Transit providing the vehicles - and with the help of local, state and federal grant funding and investments - the service took flight. Or more accurately, it took to the road.

That level of partnership is one of the things that makes this endeavor so distinct, says HopeSource project manager Geoff Crump. The broad, cooperative approach fostered by a local transit agency and a non-profit organization has caught on fast. “We’re hearing from our drivers almost every day about passengers saying how grateful they are for this service. It means a lot to both of these communities.”

WSDOT’s public transportation grants help provide access, mobility and independence to Washington residents. Made possible by state and federal funds, these grants provide transit services within and between cities, purchase new buses and other equipment, provide public transportation service for the elderly and people with disabilities, and improve public transportation in and between rural communities.