Valley Transit buses to hit streets earlier on Saturdays

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— Valley Transit will roll out its buses earlier on Saturdays.

The community’s public transportation system will make the rounds an hour and a half earlier to meet what its manager calls “the most requested service change” in the system.

Starting Sept. 8 Valley Transit’s three Saturday buses will hit the streets at 10:45 a.m., said General Manager Dick Fondahn.

The change will restore the transit system’s hours to where they were in 1999. The reduction came after the transit system suffered a loss in revenue following the passage of Initiative 695, which repealed the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, a funding mechanism for the agency.

Fondahn said Valley Transit cut Saturday service and weekday evening services at the time to make up for the loss. Service was partially restored in 2003 with a federal grant.

The latest change was approved last week by Valley Transit’s board of directors. Fondahn estimates the new hours will increase operating costs by about $5,000 for the remainder of the year.

He said the three Saturday buses average about 20 passengers boardings each per hour.

Fondahn said he’s confident there is plenty demand for the service. Anecdotally, drivers receive more requests for expanded Saturday hours than anything else. That’s partly why the issue was raised by Mark Brotherton, an employee representative on the board from the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Fondahn said other board members also reported receiving the requests, particularly from residents who missed attending the Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market events because the buses didn’t run early enough.

Fondahn said the community and rider demographics have changed considerably for Saturdays since 1999.

“There’s more going on downtown Saturday mornings than in 1999,” he explained. “And we know that ridership has changed. There are fewer youth riders, more adults. Those are riders who will get up and get going earlier in the day than those in 1999.”

He said his estimate that ridership will be 80 percent of the afternoon numbers is conservative. The new schedule will not require overtime for the agency. Drivers are currently working six-and-a-half-hour shifts on Saturdays. The new hours will bring them to a full eight, he said.

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