Years ago, Greyhound ran an intercity bus service that provided Washington State residents the flexibility to travel without the need for a car. However, due to a nationwide service restructure, Greyhound reduced service, leaving over 21 rural communities in Washington without the intercity bus service and their independence. In the aftermath of the discontinued service, a group of local activists in Walla Walla approached the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and lobbied for the return of the bus service.
In response to its constituents, WSDOT and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which provides 50% of the funds for the program, worked out a funding arrangement for the program. In 2006, WSDOT received approval from FTA to use private capital investment as local match funds. Traditionally, local matching funds were needed for each individual route and provider and were difficult for local communities to secure. The new funding structure acknowledges that intercity routes are all part of a transportation network. Today, Travel Washington uses private bus operators and contracts to provide intercity bus transportation on the bus routes statewide. This private/public partnership is a win-win for WSDOT, the contractor and the state.
The first bus line implemented was the Grape Line, connecting Walla Walla to the nearby city of Pasco. Today, members of the Walla Walla activist group and many other residents around Washington are able to visit family and friends by using the new system of bus lines. College students at Whitman College and Walla Walla University ride the Grape Line to get to and from school during the holidays. Shoppers ride the Grape Line to shop in the Tri-Cities area. Seniors, who no longer can drive have used the Grape Line to visit their children and grandchildren in Spokane and Seattle. The Grape Line also provides transportation for former inmates released from Walla Walla Penitentiary to get to Pasco to ride Greyhound and Amtrak to go home.
Today the program has grown and there are three separate lines that connect communities throughout Washington to each other and to other states. Plans are pending for a fourth and fifth line with the hope of initial service beginning in mid-2010.
View the website at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Transit/Intercity/default.htm