Via to Transit, which debuted in 2019 as an on-demand Link shuttle to better connect to Link areas where bus service is limited or not available, is getting a major expansion on Tuesday, August 10th, 2021. From 2020 to now, Via to Transit only had three service areas, one for Othello, Rainier Beach, and Tukwila Intl Blvd Link stations (while pervious iterations also had service areas for Mount Baker and Columbia City stations). Passengers from within each service area could request a pickup using the Via to Transit app, and they would be assigned a street corner to wait at. By having passengers wait at areas a few blocks from where they requested a pickup, the software used by drivers could optimally route vans to pick up every waiting passenger efficiently, bringing wait times to 10-15 minutes. Service times ran from the morning to at least midnight daily, except Tukwila, where service was available weekdays only during commute hours. But Tuesday’s expansion will expand service to Renton, introduce multiple destinations in most service areas, and bring all-day, 7 days per week service to Tukwila.
This expansion is somewhat of a turning point for Via to Transit. Previously, it had been narrowly focused, with the goal to get riders to Link Light Rail from nearby neighborhoods that are too far to walk, but not dense enough for fixed-route transit service. Now it is evolving into a more general purpose mobility service.
The Tukwila service area is finally becoming useful. It is adding a desination at Tukwila Community Center, which is largely inaccessible/impractical from a transit use standpoint, being about one mile away from a useful bus route. While previously, you could access it from Tukwila by making two Via to Transit trips (one to TIBS, then another to the community center), including it as a destination means you can now take Via directly to Tukwila Community Center, no matter where inside the service area you start. But the biggest change is that service is now all day, every day, until 1am (Mon-Sat) or midnight (Sunday), in line with Via to Transit service in Seattle. Previously, it was only available during the weekday commute, with service from 6-9am and 3:30-6:30pm, making it largely unusable for non-commute passengers.
The Renton service area is entirely new in this expansion. With the recent loss of route 908, coverage in the Renton Highlands has been reduced a bit, making it more difficult to use the bus if you don’t live near route 105. Expanding Via to Transit here gives back some of that on-demand coverage. Additionally, instead of just connecting people to Renton Transit Center (which it does), it can also be used to go to the Renton Highlands library, and the QFC and Bartell’s, providing much more flexibility than route 908 ever did. The drawback, however, is that Via to Transit stops running in Renton at 6pm every “night.” Service is still available 7 days per week, however, so trips that would be too late to work on a weekday can still be made on the weekend.
Finally, the Rainier Beach service area is expanding in size. Formerly ending right around Skyway, its service area now extends farther south into downtown Renton, with new destinations available at Renton Transit Center, Skyway Library, and Kubota Garden. While transit coverage is decent for what can be done with fixed-route service (with routes 106 and 107 crisscrossing through the area), the low frequency of the 107 and hilly walks to the bus stop limits the appeal of fixed route service here. Having a new on-demand option to bring you to a bus, train, or potentially directly to your destination will help a lot here.
Service is funded through the end of 2022
start as a six-month pilot, and costs the same as taking the bus. If you are connecting to a bus, then you can transfer for free with an ORCA card. So if you live in one of these service areas, grab a mask and try it out. Metro is looking for feedback, and will use this feedback to increase the service’s safety, sustainability, and equity.