Bus route changes affecting residents and Western students

Illustration by Cody Clark

By Henry Stewart-Wood

Following feedback from riders, the Whatcom Transportation Authority changed several bus routes and schedules. The changes affect many riders’ daily commutes, including Western Washington University students who rely on buses for transportation to and from school. 

The changes, which went into effect June 16, 2019, aim to resolve problems that riders ran into when using the buses throughout the city. Among these problems are long wait times and poor service to certain neighborhoods, according to WTA’s Public Information Officer Maureen McCarthy. 

Small changes were made to the WTA’s BLUE line which provides service to and from Western. 

The 105 bus now serves 32nd Street, eliminating the need for riders to make a transfer at Bill McDonald Pkwy. Kay McMurren, of WWU’s Sustainable Transportation Office, suspects this will have a positive effect on students.

“I think one of the big changes that students will notice is they eliminated the 5 and 11 and they wrapped that into the 105,” McMurren said.“So students that live off of 32nd St. and on Fairhaven Pkwy will no longer have to transfer to another bus when they come up 32nd street.” 

The 196 and 197 routes were added to serve Fraser Street and the Civic Field area, supplementing the 190. The 190 now travels once an hour, however, the 108 increased its frequency to twice an hour. 

The WTA consolidated the number of stops in the York neighborhood in order to increase the buses efficiency as the more stops a bus takes, the longer it takes the bus to complete the route. This means some riders will have to walk farther to catch the same bus, according to McCarthy. 

The WTA predicts fewer stops with increased frequency will make traveling more efficient for riders, McCarthy said.

Western third-year Pete Fischer and second-year Emily Johnson both rely on the WTA buses for transportation to and from campus. Fischer and Johnson both said they didn’t notice any big impacts from the changes to routes. Johnson said the 105 makes it easier for people living in Happy Valley to get to campus. 

McCarthy said another consistent complaint the WTA received was about the lack of access to and from Bellingham International Airport. Route 3 buses departing from the Cordata and downtown stations now service the airport terminal.  

“For many years we have gotten requests for service to the airport,” McCarthy said. “In addition to that — from a planning standpoint — it just makes sense to connect all of your major transportation hubs with transit.”  

An increase in employment in the area surrounding the airport was a big part of the WTA’s decision to serve the area, according to McCarthy. It will now be easier for people working in the area to take buses to work, and for people visiting Bellingham to get into town via buses. 

For others, the changes have had a negative effect on their commutes. This is true for Bellingham local Linda Lou. Lou has to travel to her cardiologist twice a week and because of the routing and schedule changes, she said her commute takes much longer than it used to. 

Lou takes the 196 to downtown where she then transfers to the 4 which takes her to the hospital. Due to schedule changes, she has to wait nearly half an hour at the downtown station before the 4 departs. 

Lou said it now takes her nearly all day to get to and from the cardiologist and that the changes have been very inconvenient for her. 

You can view the list of changes that affect students at https://westerntoday.wwu.edu/. The WTA has the full list of changes on their website and an interactive map of routes available at www.ridewta.com.

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