Walla Walla's intercity bus service is getting new wheels.
Three new, 20-passenger Grape Line buses, funded by federal stimulus dollars, will be on the road in January, providing passengers between Walla Walla and Pasco a more comfortable ride, according to an announcement from the Washington Department of Transportation.
The 2-year-old Grape Line is operated by Whatcom County-based Airporter Shuttle/Bellair Charters and offers three daily trips to Pasco with stops in Touchet, Wallula and Burbank.
The new buses, replacements for the existing fleet, are funded by $1.9 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants for the Travel Washington Intercity Bus Program. That money will also supply a fourth bus for Travel Washington's Apple Line service between Omak and Ellensburg. Five other buses will join the Travel Washington fleet by springtime, according to the announcement.
"Federal stimulus funding is giving Travel Washington's intercity bus service a great boost to meet growing needs and demand," said Stephen Abernathy, the intercity bus program manager for the state Department of Transportation. "The program is linking travel hubs and providing travel options that commuters in Washington's rural areas have been lacking."
Grape Line, which operates in partnership with the DOT and Greyhound, provides connections in Pasco with Greyhound, Amtrak and Ben Franklin Transit. In Walla Walla, it also partners with Valley Transit, Milton-Freewater Bus and Columbia County Public Transportation. A one-way fare from Walla Walla to Pasco is $6.50.
The service fills a public transportation void connecting Walla Walla to the Tri-Cities and beyond. Dick Fondahn, general manager for Walla Walla's bus service Valley Transit, said the Grape Line has been the most successful public transportation link to the Tri-Cities since the community lost its Greyhound service in late 2004.
"We had hopes, and it proved out that they could do a good job with this," Fondahn said of the bus operation.
Before Grape Line began, Walla Walla was known as the largest city in Washington without intercity bus service.
The absence of service not only affected leisure travelers. It also impacted area social-service agencies that send clients for needed appointments and services in the Tri-Cities, as well as the Washington State Penitentiary, which transports released inmates back to their communities.
According to the DOT, the new buses are manufactured by Indiana firm Turtle Top Inc. The buses are equipped with high-back reclining passenger seats.
They also have a wheelchair lift, two wheelchair stations, a bike rack for two bicycles and luggage storage areas.