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Riding in style — Puget Sound Naval Shipyard commuters get new buses

One of the 28 buses recently acquired for the PSNS worker/driver program leaves the shipyard’s Bremerton gate Tuesday.  - Tom James/staff photo
One of the 28 buses recently acquired for the PSNS worker/driver program leaves the shipyard’s Bremerton gate Tuesday.
— image credit: Tom James/staff photo

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard commuters taking part in a federally-subsidized mass transit program got their first look at newer, more comfortable and fuel-efficient buses Monday.

Purchased to replace aging buses in Kitsap Transit’s Worker/Driver program, the 28 coaches were presented to workers inside the shipyard’s Controlled Industrial Area in a lunchtime ceremony Monday, the organization said in a release the same day.

John Clauson, service development director at Kitsap Transit, said that the coaches, which he described as “touring- or greyhound- style coaches,” went into service that afternoon.

Previously, Clauson said, the Worker/Driver program carried its 800-900 daily riders on buses left over from the county’s regular routed service.

“It was something we’ve been wanting to do for a while,” Clauson said. “But historically it’s been very difficult to justify the acquisition of expensive buses that only get used three-to-four hours per day.”

Clauson said the county only paid to refurbish the buses, including paint, interior repairs, and minor mechanical repairs. More than 80 percent of the purchase cost of the coaches was paid for by a Federal Transit Administration grant, he said, with income generated by an $18 increase in monthly passes for those who ride the bus covering the rest.

The worker/driver program trains interested commuters to drive Kitsap Transit buses, then pays them a wage to do so, Clauson said. As with a van pool, the operators pick up the buses in the morning, then drive a route past or near their workmates’ homes, Clauson said. Parking the bus at the shipyard, the  driver then goes to work, and reverses the process in the evening.

“[The worker/driver program] is relatively efficient when you look at it in comparison to regular routed services,” Clauson said, because it saves the county money otherwise spent getting on “deadhead miles,” where the coach is driving to or from a route empty.

According to the release, the new coaches get almost fifty percent better mileage and are able to carry five more passengers than the old coaches.

Clauson said the new coaches lacked bike racks, but that Kitsap Transit maintenance department had found models that fit the buses and were in the process of ordering them. In the meantime, he said, cycle commuters can stow their bicycles in the coaches’ luggage compartments, under the passenger compartment.

The replacement coaches augment part of the shipyard’s larger Transportation Incentive Program, in which the federal government reimburses more than 4,000 employees for the cost of passes, said the release.

The worker/driver program currently maintains about 30 routes, Clauson said, of which 28 bring workers to and from the shipyard and two bring workers to Naval Base Kitsap - Bangor. Clauson said grants had been solicited for buses for the Bangor routes, but that Kitsap Transit had yet to receive any bids.

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