LYNNWOOD — Char McCain had the chance to visit family in Index this summer, a trip the 86-year-old bus rider from Snohomish doesn’t always get to make.
There are few transit options between the two towns, though a $250,000 federal grant to Homage aims to help solve the problem for elderly, disabled and low-income people. Door-to-door transit throughout the eastern reaches of the county is available through the Lynnwood nonprofit’s Transportation Assistance Program.
The grant money is intended to create more rides and transit options along U.S. 2 from Snohomish to Index, as well as Highway 522 from Monroe to Bothell. McCain heard about the program at a local senior center and has been using other routes for about three years.
“I couldn’t survive without it,” McCain said.
The grant money will help buy a new bus and hire a driver. Up to 10 people can ride the current bus at once.
From July 6 to 31, the new routes funded by the grant had 98 trips, totaling 2,384 miles. Of those trips, 41 were for work and 36 were because of medical needs. Riders included 98 people who were disabled and 47 who were elderly.
Homage celebrated the grant Monday with a giant check presented by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, to Homage’s Transportation Assistance Program.
There are few options for those without a personal vehicle to travel between Snohomish County’s various outlying cities and towns. Few Uber or Lyft drivers will pick up passengers in those areas, and if they do it is incredibly expensive.
“There are tons of areas where there aren’t good transportation options if you’re in a wheelchair, or have a disability, or simply can’t drive a car. It can be extremely difficult,” DelBene said. “Being able to have someone come and take you where you need to go is incredibly important.”
Rural homes may not have broadband or even cell service, especially past Monroe on U.S. 2 and beyond Arlington on Highway 530.
“It’s just getting harder and harder to afford transportation, and we are just thrilled to go after these very unique grants and be able to reach folks that maybe otherwise we wouldn’t be able to get in,” said Juli Rose, Homage’s Senior Director of Government Funded Programs.
Outside of Homage’s transit program, there is no public transit east of Gold Bar, where Community Transit’s routes end.
The project is part of $19.4 million for Washington’s 1st Congressional District in the federal budget. That money is going to 15 projects in the district represented by DelBene.
One example of the program’s importance stemmed from the recent closure of Darrington’s only pharmacy, Homage staff members said. For residents to get to the nearest pharmacy, in Arlington, they need to travel about 28 miles. A current Homage route along Highway 530 has seen more ridership since the pharmacy closed.
Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin called the pharmacy closing “devastating.” He specifically mentioned elderly people who can’t drive would have to find other ways to get to their meds. Community Transit provides one morning and one evening route to Darrington. Homage hopes to fill the gaps.
A similar story plays out in many small towns around the county.
“A lot of people aren’t near a grocery store, aren’t near a pharmacy, they’re not near a doctor,” DelBene said. “And this service is critically important for day to day tasks that people need to do, as well as access to health care.”