An approved change to Whatcom Transit Authority’s (WTA) Route 55 bus to Blaine, Birch Bay and the surrounding communities will streamline the weekday bus service departing from Blaine at 4:10 p.m., but cuts out stops in Blaine and Birch Bay for that run. The change takes effect December 3, and is intended to keep Route 55 and Route 70x running on schedule.
Instead of traveling through Blaine and Birch Bay via H Street, Peace Portal Drive, Alderson Road, Blaine Road and Birch Bay-Lynden Road, the bus will travel directly down I-5 to Birch Bay Square.
Rick Nicholson, director of services for the WTA, said Route 55 has few people getting on the bus along those roads through Blaine and Birch Bay. The bus has historically arrived 20 to 30 minutes late at Birch Bay Square due to its meandering path. Nicholson said this is a problem because commuters often transfer to the Route 70x bus at Birch Bay Square to continue traveling south to Ferndale or Bellingham. Other commuters may park and ride at Birch Bay Square, getting directly onto the Route 70x bus. With the Route 55 bus arriving so late, especially in the last couple of months, the Route 70x departure from Birch Bay Square has been delayed, and all subsequent evening connections are missed. By traveling directly down I-5, the bus will be able to make its connection with the Route 70x bus on time, Nicholson said.
“It’s been an issue for awhile,” Nicholson said. “The 70x bus is kept waiting at Birch Bay Square for up to half an hour, and that sets back the rest of the stops along the route. If we can make that connection on time, then for the rest of the evening the buses run fine.”
Unfortunately for those who depend on the WTA service in Birch Bay, the latest southbound weekday pick-up at those stops along Peace Portal Drive, Alderson Road, Blaine Road and Birch Bay-Lynden Road will be on the bus departing from Blaine at 12:55 p.m.
However, Route 55 buses heading north to Blaine will still make the usual stops at their usual times along the current route.
This means that riders can get on the bus at any of those stops, ride north to Cost Cutter in Blaine, then stay on for the southbound leg of the circuit if they need to get to Birch Bay Square, Ferndale or Bellingham.
The change affects only the southbound bus departing from Blaine at 4:10 p.m. In addition, Birch Bay is in a flex area, and residents can request a pick up anywhere two hours in advance or by 5 p.m. the day before for morning pick-ups.
WTA released a statement regarding the proposed change on October 30, and the proposal was open to public comment for a period of two weeks. During that time, two residents posted comments online about the proposal.
One expressed concern that the WTA doesn’t have the funding to keep the route going, and felt that the change was an attempt to phase out the route entirely. Nicholson explained that the change has no effect on the WTA budget, and that the WTA has no plans to phase out service along the route. Another commenter said she was pleased to see the WTA taking an active role in enhancing its service, which she depends on.
WTA officials approved the proposal Friday, November 16.