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Grape Line Bus Service Between Pasco, Walla Walla a Hit With Passengers

December 12, 2007

By Pratik Joshi, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

Dec. 11–WALLA WALLA — Freda Tepfer of Walla Walla considers the new Grape Line bus service her link to Pasco and beyond.

It helps her connect with Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains so she can visit family in Seattle, said Tepfer, who doesn’t own a car. People are loving the service, she said.

Tepfer was one of about 30 community members who braved a chilly Monday morning to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the formal start of the bus service between Walla Walla and Pasco at Walla Walla Transit Center. The bus service began Nov. 18.

A celebration is in order because the community worked hard to show a need for the bus service, which went away when Greyhound decided to bail out more than three years ago, she said.

The start-up has gone without a hitch, said Dick Fondahn, general manager of Valley Transit, which along with Ben Franklin Transit allows Grape Line to use its transfer centers to help expand access for commuters.

About a dozen passengers are using the service daily, said Richard Johnson, president of Central Washington Airporter, a sister company of Ferndale-based Airporter Shuttle/Bellair Charters, which is operating the three-times-a-day bus service.

Grape Line is part of Travel Washington Intercity Bus Service, which essentially is a program about connectivity instead of servicing a particular route, said Don Chartock, project development coordinator of the state Department of Transportation’s public transportation division.

No state dollars are going into the federally funded and DOT-managed program, which is designed to enhance intercity travel within the state and the nation through timed connections with other intercity carriers, Chartock said.

DOT soon plans to run Apple Line from Omak to Ellensburg and Dungeness Line from Port Angeles to Seattle after contracting with private providers and subsidizing initial operating and marketing expenses.

DOT expects providers to build passenger demand, become independent and survive without any monetary support eventually, Chartock said.

Grape Line owner Johnson plans to increase ridership by spreading the word about the service through advertising and direct contact with potential customers.

A lot of thought has gone into developing a business plan to operate and market Grape Line, he said. The new bus service will be a model for public and private partnerships where public transit can take care of inner city travel and private providers can service long routes to help take care of the transportation needs of the people in the community, Johnson said.

The new service will benefit seniors and those with special needs, veterans, students and environmentally conscious citizens who prefer not to have a car, said Jerry Cummins, a Walla Walla city councilman. It has help cut down emissions and promote tourism in Walla Walla, he said.

“It’s here to stay,” said Don Whitehouse, DOT’s regional administrator for the southcentral region.

— For more information on Grape Line, call 877-433-4775, or visit www. grapeline.us.

— To learn more about Washington’s intercity bus program, visit www. wsdot.wa.gov/transit/intercity

–Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; pjoshi@tricityherald.com

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Copyright (c) 2007, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

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