Washington City Offers Innovative Mobility for All

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: April 25, 2023

In Lynden, WA, the community, elected officials, and transit managers partnered to create an on-demand van program that serves their urban areas and surrounding rural communities.

Lynden, WA, a small city of almost 16,000 people, previously had a single fixed bus route going through its downtown. But the fixed route left transit gaps within the city limits of this small rural community. The community’s transit board, comprised of the county executive and elected officials from around the county, concluded the transit system needed to try something new. At the Board’s direction, the Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) launched the Lynden Hop, an on-demand service for customers to hail a ride from anywhere within the city using an app, website, or by phone.

The Lynden Hop costs $1 per ride and is available Monday – Friday 7:15 AM – 7:30 PM and Saturday and Sunday 8:00 AM – 5:30 PM. While the program was initially financed through a Federal Transit Authority grant, its operating costs are now funded locally with a 0.6% public transit benefit area (PBTA) sales tax. A marketing video to introduce the program was funded by a grant written by the project manager.

Designing the program

To create a program that fit the needs of the community, WTA transit planners solicited feedback from riders and elected officials and successfully wrote an application to receive an Integrated Mobility Innovation (IMI) grant from the Federal Transit Authority (FTA). Because the transit authority already had the capacity to support the program, they were able to staff the Lynden Hop with transit operators who were already on staff. Drivers are able to select their shift assignment in order of union seniority.

“This is a desirable shift,” explains project manager Mary Anderson. “It’s a smaller vehicle, and a more personal trip.”

How it’s going

When designing the program, WTA set a goal of having ridership on par with their paratransit program, the service to which this program is most similar. “Since I had to stop driving the first of the year it has been a burden to always rely on family or friends for transportation. The Lynden Hop has given me my independence back,” wrote one customer identifying as Vicki.

As the community has learned more about the program, the user base has expanded to serve unexpected populations. “A group of high school students take it from school to their part time job. Middle school students take it to and from football practice. I even had a mom email us that she really appreciated the service because she no longer had to leave work to come and get her son from practice,” said Anderson.

Based on the data WTA received from the app that connects riders with drivers, ridership has plateaued. Feedback about the program is collected through drivers, email, and calls into the customer service center. The team will be distributing a passenger survey in the next couple of weeks, which they expect will yield more general feedback about what is working well. WTA is currently working on a final report about the program’s grant to the FTA.

When launching the program, WTA prioritized using reliable vehicles. The team explored purchasing electric vans to make the program environmentally sustainable but found little evidence about the dependability of those new vehicles. Further, while WTA currently has two electric busses in its fleet and has two more arriving this year, they are still building their EV charging capacity. Infrastructure, Anderson points out, is one of the biggest hurdles of moving to an electric fleet.

All the vans in the Lynden Hop fleet are handicapped accessible with a lift in the back, but currently can’t accommodate bikes. The team tried to fit a bike rack in the front of the vans but found that this would block a necessary sensor. As they replace vans, they look forward to engineering a solution to making the fleet bike-friendly.

Advice for other communities

No one size fits all. There are many different programs like Lynden Hop around the US, Anderson points out, and it’s important for communities to identify what works best for them. WTA chose to operate entirely in house because they already had the capacity and they prioritized providing the service with drivers trained by and employed by WTA. For some agencies, it may be easier and more cost efficient to operate parts of their services through contracted vendors.

Ask around before starting up. Anderson advises for transit program managers to reach out to other agency staff and ask questions. “I’m always happy to talk to other people about our experience and share that insider scoop,” she offered.


We’d love to hear from you!

Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (kashner@ctaa.org).

Skip to toolbar