WTA proposes more changes to Route 55

Published on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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The Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) is once again proposing changes to Route 55, the bus route that provides daily service from Blaine and Birch Bay to Bellingham.

Route 55 essentially runs on two routes, providing an express connection from Blaine to Route 70X in Birch Bay Square mornings and evenings, and a more circuitous route from Blaine through Birch Bay and Ferndale to the Cordata station in Bellingham during working hours. Each route travels both north and south.

The proposal is the latest effort to reduce the chronic lateness of the longer and meandering Birch Bay route. In December 2012, the route was adjusted to streamline service, but was not as effective as hoped. 

“It’s consistently running behind schedule both ways,” said Rick Nicholson, director of services for the WTA. “We keep adding time to the route and it keeps getting even more late. So instead of adding more time to the route, which just makes people’s trips longer, we’re proposing that we change the route, along with a slight change in the schedule.”

The proposal will change the route in three ways: The only Ferndale stop would be at the park and ride, rather than going through downtown; it would decrease the geographic area included in the route’s “flex area” in Birch Bay and it would eliminate Grandview Industrial Park from the flex area.

“Our flex area is set up so that if you’re not on a regular route, you can call in ahead of time and the route will be diverted from the regular route to pick you up closer to your home,” Nicholson said. “Because it’s such a large geographical area, it’s hard for it to meander where everyone lives.”

The flex area currently stretches to Birch Bay Village, but Nicholson said that making that stop is time consuming and costly. 

“One diversion there adds a significant amount of time for everyone on the bus,” he said. “We want to reduce the size of that flex area so it only goes as far as Shintaffer Road. We would be cutting that piece of the flex boundary back a mile and a half or so, and it would save us five minutes of travel time.” 

Nicholson said he thinks that making these small adjustments, which collectively save around 10  minutes of drive time, will fix their time problem, and make the ride much shorter for everyone involved. 

He also said that very few people utilize the service from Birch Bay Village. “We have one regular rider, and a few others sporadically,” he said. “That one person will certainly be affected, but it will benefit the ridership as a whole.”

The WTA board will be meeting on Thursday, April 18 to set a date for a public hearing on the changes. Comments can be made to comment@ridewta.com or on the comment line at 360/715-4500.

“If people need more information or have questions about how the route will affect them, they can call me,” Nicholson said. Nicholson can be reached at 360/738-4585 or rickn@ridewta.com.