Pierce Transit has announced a launch date of April 1 for its newest transit offering, the Stream Community Line. A peak-hour service that will shadow existing service on the Route 1 between Tacoma Dome Station and Spanaway, the Community Line will run every 20 minutes from 5:30am to 7:30am and from 4pm to 7pm, only stopping at the most frequently-used stops along Pacific Avenue and Mountain Highway.

The current Route 1 doesn’t directly serve Tacoma Dome Station and its connection to Sound Transit’s Sounder S line and express buses, providing a faster trip for anyone trying to make a connection. And by skipping stops and using transit-signal priority technology to keep Pacific Avenue lights green for buses, Pierce Transit expects to see travel time savings of at least 14 minutes compared to existing Route 1 service.

This “enhanced bus service” represents a pivot away from earlier efforts to convert the Route 1 into a bus rapid transit (BRT) line to provide more efficient and reliable service up and down the Pacific Avenue corridor and in Downtown Tacoma at all times of day. With high standards for BRT speed and service quality, boosters claim true BRT lines offer essentially all the benefits of light rail.

Pierce Transit started work in earnest on that project in 2018, with the selection of its preferred route, but the project became bogged down by requests for included elements from other levels of government, including the City of Tacoma and the Washington State Department of Transportation. Those elements included road widening on an already wide Pacific Avenue.

Daytime rendering of the mountain option. (Pierce Transit)
Plans to create dedicated space for buses along Pacific Avenue in Pierce County fell apart in 2023 as updated cost estimates put the BRT project out of reach. (Pierce Transit)

After costs escalated to the point where the project no longer made sense, even with the help of federal dollars — the latest cost estimate was pegged at $311 million — it was put on hold last year. But still wanting to provide some type of service enhancement on the corridor, Pierce Transit quickly turned around the plan for the Community Line.

The Community Line will provide shadow service for the Route 1 along Pacific Avenue S, and provide a direct connection during peak hours to and from Tacoma Dome Station. (Pierce Transit)

In the coming months, Pierce Transit plans to make upgrades to the stations served by the Community Line, including adding real-time arrival signs and the baseline level of amenities like a lighted shelter and a bench.

Pierce Transit will invest close to 11,000 annual service hours operating the Community Line, around 20% of the total hours spent operating the Route 1. Many of those new service hours are coming through the retirement of low-ridership routes in the Pierce Transit system, including the Route 13 (to N 30th Street in Tacoma’s North End), the Route 63 (to Northeast Tacoma), the Route 425 (in Puyallup) and a segment of Route 409 (also in Puyallup). Riders in these areas are instead being directed to take advantage of Pierce Transit’s on-demand Runner van service, which it started offering in 2020 and has been slowly expanding to new neighborhoods.

All of these changes come as Sound Transit is set to scale back existing service levels on its express bus routes in Pierce County, which are operated by Pierce Transit bus drivers, due to operator availability. Those bus routes include the 590 between Downtown Seattle and Downtown Tacoma, with a focus on retaining routes that don’t have any nearby parallel service.

The MultiCare branding on the Community Line is the result of a revenue-generating partnership that’s set to bring in $250,000 for Pierce Transit in its first year and ramp up yearly after that. Selling station naming rights to advertisers isn’t incredibly common in Puget Sound, but it has been seen in places like Seattle’s South Lake Union streetcar. Riders on the Stream Community line won’t get off at Tacoma Dome Station, they’ll get off at MultiCare Tacoma Dome Station.

Leadership at Pierce Transit hopes that providing upgraded service along its most-used corridor will lead to increased momentum to revisit the idea of BRT service, both there and along the agency’s other top routes.

“Folks need to see before they do more,” Ryan Mello, a Pierce County Councilmember and member of the Pierce Transit board, told The Urbanist earlier this year. “So when they can see that, they’re going to be able to understand what’s possible when we can really deliver a full blown bus rapid transit line there, and then take that kind of success to the future lines we’re planning along the three trunk routes in the Pierce Transit service territory, so take it to the [Route] 2 and the [Route] 3.”

Article Author

Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the The Urbanist since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. Ryan's writing has appeared in Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Bike Portland, and Seattle Bike Blog, where they also did a four-month stint as temporary editor.