Opinion

Where does shuttle end, transit start?

Is it a workers’ shuttle or a transit route?

Even before it gets out of the garage, a new program to whisk downtown business employees to and from a remote park-and-ride has an identity crisis. Billed as something more than a shuttle service for Winslow merchants – shoppers could ride it too, some say, although that’s not really been made clear – but something less than a full-fledged Kitsap Transit run, the service is doubtful until proponents figure out exactly what it is and who it should serve.

The shuttle/transit route – for now, let’s just call it a “bus” – was proposed by the city administration last month as a way to free up precious parking spaces in Winslow’s downtown core. Downtown employees could leave their vehicles at an ad hoc park-and-ride at Ordway Elementary School and hop the free shuttle to their place of work each day.

With the downtown workforce estimated at 500 employees, backers say the bus has a ready-made ridership that would guarantee success – and in turn, would bring more shoppers downtown as parking spaces are easier to find. Putting those Bainbridge dollars in local merchants’ coffers would benefit everyone.

Yet the City Council balked at the plan, questioning exactly what the city would be getting for its investment of $135,000 over three months.

With the Ordway lot offering only 60 parking spaces, even at full capacity the city would in effect be “renting” spaces at around $400 per month. It’s a fair concern, for a program that no one is really sure downtown employees will embrace. It does, after all, count on a certain “behavior modification” by those employees who now park on Winslow Way for convenience and move their cars every two hours to beat the meter patrol.

At a council committee meeting this week, backers looked for new ways to spin the program to earn support; hopes seemed to rest on finding clear incentives to get workers to take advantage of the new bus. But what no one has really answered yet is how the shuttle meshes with existing transit service, and why it can’t just be folded into established routes.

Downtown Winslow is already served by regular bus service through Kitsap Transit’s Route 100, designed to spirit ferry commuters back and forth from a park-and-ride at Bethany Lutheran Church off Finch Road (but also making other stops along the way).

Seems like the city and Kitsap Transit could reconfigure the Route 100 loop – expand it to take in additional stops, change the scheduling, whatever – and fold the proposed shuttle into that service. If you want to think really big, why not take the proposed city shuttle subsidy and apply it to the expanded Route 100 – and make it free for all riders, not just downtown employees? We suspect a free, all-day transit loop around town – one that serves not just workers but neighbors, retirees and outlanders who come into town for the day – would have folks jumping aboard. And what effect might that have on parking and traffic?

Free Winslow bus service may be wishful thinking, but no more so than an employee shuttle that few seem to even understand enough to support.

Until the administration and Kitsap Transit can articulate just how the shuttle would mesh with current service – and what everyone would get out of it – the bus is going be stuck on blocks.

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