Thanks largely to efforts by Pierce County Councilmember Robyn Denson (D-7th, Gig Harbor), Key Peninsula residents will be able to take a holiday weekend shuttle between the Longbranch Improvement Club and Gig Harbor for shopping and errands at no cost. The service begins on the Friday following Thanksgiving and will run every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 24.
The county will provide $15,000 to fund two vans with a 15-passenger capacity including two wheelchairs. The vehicles will provide eight trips, leaving the Longbranch Improvement Club approximately hourly between 8:30 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Stops will include Evergreen Elementary, Key Peninsula Middle School, Key Center, Lake Kathryn Village, Costco-Target, downtown Gig Harbor near Heritage Distillery on Harborview and Pioneer, and three in the Gig Harbor shopping areas near Ross, Fred Meyer and Safeway. From Safeway, the vans will loop directly back to Longbranch with the last van arriving in Longbranch at about 6 p.m.
All ages are welcome, but those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The shuttle is a pilot program, part of a long-term plan to bring safe and reliable transportation to the community. “We’ve been talking about this forever,” Denson said. “Transportation is mentioned over and over again by residents as a need on the Key Peninsula. It’s not just low-income people without cars asking for transportation, it’s people of all income and ability levels.”
Shuttle drivers will document ridership, and utilization will provide evidence of need, which will in turn impact possible funding in the future. “The best way to support the system is to ride the system,” said Steve Hutchins, owner of Around the Sound, the company hired to provide the service. Around the Sound contracts with healthcare systems in the region to provide transportation to medical appointments. Hutchins said that eight riders per trip would demonstrate sufficient demand for such a service.
“Drawing from the data collected by the KP Partnership for a Healthy Community,” Denson said, “I worked with county human services, county finance, and local transportation experts to come up with a program that fits with funds available.” (See “Another Attempt to Address Transportation on the Key Peninsula Emerges,” KP News, April 2023.)
Daeveene May, a Pierce County Human Services Department transportation program specialist, said of that survey, “My key takeaways were that 96% of transportation is in private vehicles, people want safe and reliable transportation, and the primary destinations are Key Center, Lake Kathryn Village, Gig Harbor, Port Orchard, and Tacoma. People also want good walking and biking trails.”
Partnership co-director Susan Paganelli said that another key finding was that lack of transportation led to social isolation, especially for young people.
“We are actively searching for funding to support a more comprehensive and KP-specific set of options,” Paganelli said. “These would include electric vans running scheduled loop routes throughout the KP (not just along the KP Highway spine) and that will connect reliably to other transportation systems in Purdy. These regular KP routes, along with some on-demand options, are what our community is asking for.”
The holiday shuttle schedule will be available by mid-November at www.piercecountywa.gov/kpdrives.
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