Tulalip Transit: Getting you where you need to go

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Need a lift in a pinch? Did your ride bail on you at the last second? Too young for a license but you need transportation to a local Tulalip event or family gathering? Or are you in need of the vaccine but have no wheels to the scene? Tulalip Transit has your back! From 8:50 a.m. to 4:33 p.m., Monday through Friday, you can catch the transit at any one of their various stops throughout the village including the neighborhoods of Silver Village and Mission Highlands as well as at the Admin building and the Tulalip Health Clinic. 

“Tulalip Transit has been operating since January 2011 and we have provided nearly 69,000 rides,” explained Tulalip Transit Supervisor Mary Hargrove.

Celebrating a decades-worth of providing rides to the Tulalip citizenship this year, the Transit department has been an important facet of the Tribe, helping elders, youth, and everyone in-between reach the destination of their choosing around the reservation. 

“The Transit is public transportation, meaning it’s for everybody in the community,” Mary stated. “There’s only one route. It’s primarily in the Tulalip Bay area, and it circulates the main human services; the Administration building, Health Clinic, the Boys & Girls club, the gym, Family Services, beda?chelh.”

After nearly ten years in service, the two transit buses that are known throughout the community, with the blue and white tribal graphics, are getting a well-deserved rest with the introduction of a brand-spanking new bus that is loaded with features to accommodate the needs of the local populous. 

“We have three buses total including the new bus,” Mary stated. “They’re called cutaways, or 12+2’s, seating twelve ambulatory passengers and two wheelchairs. We were trying for about five years for a new bus. When we finally got it, it was ready to be picked up right as we got the stay-at-home order. So, it didn’t actually get delivered to us until August. It took me a good length of time to get all of the protective equipment installed, and we started operating at the end of October.”

She continued, “The new bus features front boarding and seating for wheelchair passengers, destination signs, pull cord stop requests, onboard cameras, StabiliTrak system, Telma transmission retarder, and engine fire suppression system. 80% of the money came from a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) competitive grant opportunity. Everybody that has seen it loves it. Even people who aren’t getting on to ride; people driving about the community have actually stopped the driver to take a look at the bus.”

Lead Transit Operator Darlene Pittman, a driver for Tulalip Transit from the very start, is at the helm of the new bus, navigating the streets of Tulalip while also connecting with her riders on a personal level, learning each person’s first name and their story, upon entry to the bus. Darlene admitted her excitement for the new vehicle, stating the bus’s new toys have already come in handy. 

“I haven’t had a rider that is in a wheelchair yet, but I have had people who are handicapped who needed to use the ramp,” Darlene stated. “The seatbelts strap in and we have these little black bags on the side by the wheelchair spaces, those are wheelchair tie-downs. They tie down at four points, so you don’t put any stress on it or break it if you stop suddenly. Another new feature that we didn’t have before, and I think people will really like, is the bike rack located at the front of the bus. I also have the marquee board up in the front and on the side, it says ‘Tulalip Bay’ and ‘Masks Required’. When I have to go get fuel, it will read ‘Out of Service’ and if there is an emergency on the bus and I don’t want somebody to know I’m calling 9-1-1, I can change the marquee board to flash ‘Emergency, call 9-1-1’.”

Initially, when the pandemic hit, the transit services came to a complete halt. But as months went by and more information was learned about the virus, the department was able to open operations, with a great amount of emphasis on safety for the driver and the rider alike. The Transit department took several precautions and set forth new rules to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. The department also received access to funding through the CARES Act, funding granted to help the Tribe withstand the global outbreak. 

Said Mary, “The buses are equipped with a protective driver shield, sanitation supplies, reduced seating with availability to socially-distance, and we are requiring that masks be worn. All of this is for us to do everything we can to reduce the spread of COVID-19. I would also like to mention that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that if you have COVID-19 to avoid public transportation, ride-sharing or taxis. Our driver is masked, the passengers are required to wear masks, we have signage posted on the bus, we disinfect the bus, and we have masks on board in the event somebody wants to board but doesn’t have a mask.”

Mary explained that the Transit adheres to a strict, set route but the driver is able to deviate from the route up to 3/4 of a mile, depending on the drivers schedule and if proper arrangements are made at least one day in advance. 

“We have a fixed route but we also provide route deviation for registered passengers,” she stated. “We will do deviation upon request. We’re making efforts to provide more personalized services to the community. For instance, we had an elder who was at her friend’s house and she needed to get home. Her friend didn’t want her to walk down to the bus stop. The bus stop was just down the street from where she was, so we picked her up at her friend’s door and took her directly to her home. But like I mentioned, we can only deviate up to 3/4 of a mile off the route.”

The Tulalip Transit is currently running on a reduced schedule due to COVID-19, operating with one driver throughout the business week. The Transit does not offer services on the major holidays, so please keep that in mind when planning your travels.  Please refer to their current schedule and the map provided to determine the closest bus stop in your area. For more information please visit their webpage at www.tulaliptribes-nsn.gov/Home/Community/ TulalipTransit.aspx or dial 360-716-4206.

Darlene reflected, “I’ve been here for eleven years and it’s exciting to see how we grew in everything that we do, and how we can make it better. I’m glad we finally got a new bus. The Tulalip Transit is important because what if you were stuck at home and needed to get to the Tulalip pharmacy but you didn’t drive, how would you get there? We’re here to serve the public and I think we’re hitting it on the mark pretty well. We just want to continue to let people know we’re here and we’d be happy to get them where they need to go.”