[5/17/22] If you’ve ever ridden a bus in Pierce County, it’s more than likely you rode Pierce Transit. Formed in 1979, Pierce Transit gets Pierce County residents where they need to go. Pierce Transit estimates it runs 14,000 trips a day with services including bus transit, vanpool, ADA-accessible shuttles, and on-demand runner vehicles.
Pierce Transit's next stop? The future of transportation.
Public transportation in Pierce County began with streetcars, such as those that traveled up and down the hills of Tacoma. When automobile transit became the dominant mode of travel, buses came to serve people’s transportation needs. Pierce Transit merged various city and regional services in 1979 and is now the primary bus and shuttle transit provider for Pierce County. As our world continues to change with issues such as pandemics, advancing technology, environmental concerns, and traffic patterns, so do people’s transit needs. Pierce Transit is prepared to meet these challenges and travel alongside Pierce County into the future.
“We’re bringing transit into the 21st century,” says CEO Mike Griffus.
Griffus says that the COVID-19 pandemic has really shined a light on how critical their services are for essential workers.
“People need to understand we're a lifeline to a lot of people.”
Griffus estimates that nearly 50% of Pierce Transit passengers don’t own a car. These passengers rely on Pierce Transit to get to work, go to school, travel to grocery stores, see a doctor, and visit loved ones. Even during the height of the pandemic, Pierce Transit was still providing 9,000 rides each weekday and was an essential part of keeping the local community running.
Rising to meet the complications of a global health crisis isn’t the only way Pierce Transit is gearing up for the future.
When thinking about cutting-edge technology, buses might not be the first thought in most people’s heads; however, Pierce Transit is at the forefront of integrating technology in its transit services. Its technological upgrades are paving the way for better amenities, accessibility, and safety in transportation.
Pierce Transit buses are equipped with free WiFi for passengers, and that’s only the beginning of the organization’s tech investments. It has also incorporated digital app services that allow riders to pay their fares electronically, view estimated arrival times, and choose the most up-to-date route options.
One of the most exciting and groundbreaking tech features at Pierce Transit is its virtual reality training for its bus operators. It is one of the first organizations to use Oculus virtual reality headsets to train bus operators in a safe, controlled environment before they get behind the wheel and on the road.
Pierce Transit is creating a bridge between technological advances and environmental protection as well. A major way it does this is with its fleet of fully electric buses. CEO Mike Griffus states that it is a goal to see 20% of Pierce Transit buses— around 40 vehicles— go completely electric in the near future.
Griffus shares the fact that bus transit is simultaneously good for the environment as well as local residents facing traffic congestion. About 40 passengers can fit on just one bus, versus the relatively small capacity of individually-owned cars. This has the benefit of maximizing road use and helping eliminate traffic, in addition to putting less strain on the environment.
Pierce Transit also has a big role to play in the future of commerce in Pierce County.
A future project Griffus is excited to share about is the planned Bus Rapid Transit line that will transport riders between Spanaway and downtown Tacoma along a 14.4-mile portion of Pacific Avenue/State Road 7. This bus route is expected to cut travel times for passengers by one third vs the time it takes by car travel. With partners at city, county, and state levels, the project is expected to break ground in 2024 with a service date of 2027.
Griffus anticipates even more positive impacts of this project in addition to the benefits it will bring passengers.
“Usually along corridors that you put bus rapid transit in there’s a lot more development opportunities,” he says.
He states that he can’t wait to see Pacific Highway go vertical as more development, housing, and retail is constructed for people who want to live close to Bus Rapid Transit.
In addition to the Spanaway to Tacoma line, four more BRT lines are part of Pierce Transit’s 2040 plan that will bring $750 million of construction projects to Pierce County.
“This business, like most businesses, is about building partnerships and relationships in the community.”
Griffus wants people to know that the career and business opportunities at Pierce Transit range much wider than bus operator positions (although those certainly are critical). To operate as the primary bus transit provider for the second largest county in Washington takes workers in every area from accounting, to maintenance, to marketing. Pierce Transit is a leading employer in the region with over 900 employees across the county. In addition to direct positions with Pierce Transit, the transit projects it operates create countless jobs in local construction and development.
“The partnerships we make at the chamber really solidify our role in this community.”
Griffus shares that in his time as CEO of Pierce Transit he has made many more important business connections and formed partnerships through Chamber opportunities such as being invited to speak to the Port of Tacoma to address their transit needs. Griffus also attended the 2022 annual Washington-to-Washington, D.C. advocacy trip as part of the Chamber’s delegation.
The Chamber values Pierce Transit as a member and appreciates the critical role they play in the infrastructure of Pierce County. Here’s to the future of transit! We can’t wait to see where Pierce Transit takes us next.
This Member Feature story is part of a series by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber to promote stronger connections and increased engagement between the Chamber, its members, and the local business community. Member stories are non-promotional opportunities to share members' business stories with the community. If you are a Chamber member interested in being featured for a story, please contact Digital Marketing Outreach Coordinator Audrey Widner at firstname.lastname@example.org
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TACOMA-PIERCE COUNTY CHAMBER
950 Pacific Ave. Suite 300
Tacoma, Washington 98402
Phone: (253) 627-2175
Fax: (253) 597-7305