Transit in Tacoma, WA

Pierce Transit 2
Close up of the Tacoma Link streetcar. Christopher MacKechnie

Transit In Tacoma, WA


Tacoma, WA is a city of about 200,000 about thirty-four miles south of Seattle.   Travel between Tacoma and Seattle is provided by Sound Transit Express Buses or the Sounder Commuter Train and travel between Tacoma and Olympia, WA is provided by Intercity Transit.  Sound Transit also operates a short streetcar called the Tacoma Link that operates from downtown Tacoma to the Tacoma Dome.

  Pierce Transit operates local and express service in Pierce County, and serves a population of 557,000 in 292 square miles.

Pierce Transit utilizes one hundred six buses on thirty eight routes.  In FY13, Pierce Transit carried 11.7 million passengers.  Due to severe budget difficulties caused by a significant reduction in sales tax revenue (see funding, below), Pierce Transit has unfortunately had to reduce service extensively (33% in 2010 alone) in the past few years.  For example, Sunday service was curtailed for several years but fortunately has been restored.  Service on regular routes is generally operated every thirty to sixty minutes weekdays from 6 AM to 7 PM with reduced service levels on Saturday and Sunday, with some routes ending as early as 4:30 PM on the weekends.   Improved service levels operate on three major routes, with fifteen-twenty minute service on weekdays and service operating from 4:30 AM to midnight on weekdays with a slight reduction on weekends.


One ride on Pierce Transit is $2, an all day pass is $5, and a monthly pass is $72, with youth and discounted fares $0.75, $2, and $27 respectively.  For information on regional fares refer to my transit in Seattle page.


In FY13, Pierce Transit’s $104 million operating budget was derived from fares (21%), local funds (sales tax) (35%), state funds (2%), federal assistance (9%), and other sources (34%).

  The primary “other” source is reimbursement from Sound Transit for providing regionally significant bus routes.  Of the $11 million capital budget, 47% came from local funds, 52% came from the federal government, and 1% came from state funds.


The Sound Transit plan for improved regional bus and light rail service in the Seattle-Tacoma Metropolitan Area is focused to a large extent on King County and to a smaller extent on Snohomish County to the north.  Eventually, an extension of the airport light rail line to the suburb of Federal Way, right on the border of Pierce Transit’s coverage area, will occur but there are no plans for improved service in Pierce County itself.


In late February 2011, an explosion of CNG refueling tanks at the Pierce Transit maintenance facility forced buses to be driven almost to the Seattle International Airport to be refueled, which in itself forced a service reduction.  This explosion caused $8.1 million in damage and was caused by an incorrect connection of high and low pressure CNG delivery systems during an upgrade to the fueling facilities.  Insurance covered almost all of the $8.1 million in losses, and fortunately something like this has not happened again even as more and more North American transit agencies are turning to CNG as a propulsion system.

Coming directly after Pierce Transit’s loss of an election to increase the sales tax devoted to transit by 0.3%, the fire was a coincidence, but put an exclamation point on a dark period in Pierce Transit’s history.  But as I write this in August 2015, Pierce Transit is moving in the right direction – although it is still shocking to see how little transit service is available in Tacoma compared with Seattle even after taking into account the much larger size of Seattle.  Frequent express buses to Seattle make it easier to take transit to go thirty miles than it is to take it to go only a few miles in Tacoma.  Overall, the ease of getting around Tacoma without a car is 3 out of 10.

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Your Citation
MacKechnie, Christopher. "Transit in Tacoma, WA." ThoughtCo, Aug. 6, 2016, MacKechnie, Christopher. (2016, August 6). Transit in Tacoma, WA. Retrieved from MacKechnie, Christopher. "Transit in Tacoma, WA." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 20, 2017).