“Now there’s no more waiting in that long line on Harbor (Drive) to see if you can get a spot to park at the City Beach or state park,” City Transportation Director Tom Manderscheid said.
Manderscheid said people also won’t have to lug beach gear from their parking place out to the beach, as the new bus service will take all of it there.
Beachgoers will be directed into the parking lot on Taylor Avenue, west of Beacon Boulevard and across the street from Automatic Spring Products. There, they will board the bus for a 10-minute ride to the beach.
Signs will be placed along U.S. 31 directing visitors to the parking lot.
“It is pretty visible and pretty straightforward,” said Sam Janson, assistant to City Manager Pat McGinnis.
The Beach Express will pick visitors up and drop them off at City Beach every 10-15 minutes.
“(That) is an extremely fast turnaround,” Janson said. “I am fairly confident we can meet that.”
The service will use one bus at first, but city transit officials said they'll keep an eye on it to see if a larger bus or more buses are needed.
“Obviously, it will be adjusted as people use it,” Manderscheid said. “It is a pilot program. We have no history, so we’ll have to see how operations go.”
It will cost $1 per person for a roundtrip.
“Fifty cents for a one-way bus trip is a steal,” Janson said. “I don’t think there is anywhere in the country where you can get a deal like that.”
The price is a discounted rate compared to the rates traditionally charged by Harbor Transit's demand service.
“Because we’re looking at higher volume, that is why we are able to lower it,” Manderscheid said.
Manderscheid said the route is fixed, so the distance the bus has to travel is predetermined.
The drop-off point for the service is at the new City Beach restrooms. The city spent $10,000 to install a bus bay there.
“That drop-off point is an excellent point of exit for a bus,” Janson said. “It’s far away from the state park, which is jam-packed during the summer.”
Janson said the city extended the sidewalk from the restrooms' concrete pad. It is connected to a beach walkway to the shoreline, ending within 20 feet of the water.
“If someone with accessibility needs wants to get down to the water, it is possible,” Janson said.
Janson said the goal of the new service is for traffic to be manageable for residents, public safety and visitors who use Harbor Drive. Officials also hope to alleviate parking issues near the Tri-Cities Family YMCA.
“Those cars will stack up, and the Beach Express is the best option if you don’t want to be stuck in traffic,” Janson said.