From left, bus driver Crystal Petesch, Marcia Harris, program coordinator; Craig Sherman, PSD transportation; Annie Bell, PSD transportation director and Danna Webster, KP Council president, gathered at the district bus barn last month for a meeting on route adjustments for the revamped Key Peninsula School Bus Connection. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

 

Long-time Key Peninsula resident Edie Morgan has known for many years that transportation –– or lack thereof –– is a huge issue on the Key Peninsula.

“We took a survey in 2006, especially asking individuals 50 years of age and older as to what they though was necessary for them to age in place on the Peninsula,” said Morgan, founder and executive director of the Mustard Seed Project.

“And by golly, transportation came out No. 1 by far. I didn’t especially want to focus on transportation, but it was clearly a necessity.”

The first piece of the solution was the Key Peninsula Senior Ride Program, for which Mustard Seed partnered with Catholic Community Services to train volunteer drivers.

Fast-forward to 2010 when Morgan began noticing all the empty school busses parked at Evergreen Elementary.

“Edie looked at them and said ‘Let’s put people on those busses. They’re sitting there empty –– why not fill them?’” said Mustard Seed Program Administrator Amanda Walston.

That idea earned Mustard Seed a grant through the Pierce County Coordinated Transportation Commission to use school buses to provide transportation for Key Peninsula residents when the buses weren’t being used by the Peninsula School District (PSD).

In May 2011, the bus program began giving free rides to Key Peninsula residents.

“I think it’s a great program,” said bus driver Crystal Petesch. “I’d much rather see people on our buses, than people hitchhiking.”

Administration of the project recently was taken over by the Key School Bus Connects, an arm of the Key Peninsula Community Council.

“Mustard Seed’s board of directors wanted them to focus more on just senior citizens’ issues and not the entire community,” said Marcia Harris, vice president of the Community Council and coordinator of the School Bus Connection.

Even before Pierce Transit cut service to the Key Peninsula, the council had recognized that transportation was a critical issue in the area.

“How can you get into town? How can you get to the Park & Ride? How can you get to the doctor or the grocery store, if you don’t have a private vehicle,” Harris said.

The council was instrumental in getting the original grant renewed through 2015. “The grant is for approximately $50,000 a year,” Harris said.

“Money is used for transportation and administration, advertising and working to make sure the people in the community know about this service being available.”

The grant was funded through the Puget Sound Education Services District (ESD) through the State Department of Transportation.

“School buses are allowed to be used for transporting the elderly and the disabled and special needs individuals. We’re underneath those guidelines on the state level,” explained Annie Bell, the PSD director of transportation, who has been associated with the project from the ground up.

“For the summertime, the bus leaves from the bus garage and goes out to Lake of the Woods and Lake Holiday and then goes down Wight Bliss Road, up Olson to Key Center. So people from Lake of the Woods and Lake Holiday can get on the bus and get dropped off at the Key Center market at a certain time and continue down to Lake Kathryn and to the Purdy Park & Ride. The bus also goes toward Home and Palmer Lake to pick up and bring people who live in that area down to the market. There are dedicated stops where people can get on or off the bus,” Bell said.

Bus service runs one day a week –– on Tuesdays.

In August, the bus will run three times a day –– between 8 and 9:30 a.m. then between 2 and 4 p.m.,” said Danna Webster, council president.

The afternoon run also will stop at the food bank and at Volunteer Park.

“And we also pick up at the Purdy Park & Ride at 4:45 and take people back to wherever they need to go. There are about 12 to15 stops altogether,” Harris said. “Next school year we hope to be able to run two days a week.”

Webster said the program is a wonderful opportunity for people on the KP to get around the Peninsula for free.

“We’re making our tax dollars work for us here on the Peninsula,” Webster said.

For information and a bus schedule, visit kpcouncil.org or call (253) 884-BUSS or the PSD transportation office at (253) 530-3900.

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