It was Terrie Higgins’ 13th ride of the day, and it wasn’t even 10:30 a.m. yet.
Higgins is a demand response driver operating C-Tran’s The Current, an on-demand ride-share service similar to Lyft or Uber that operates in five specific service zones that are difficult for C-Tran to serve with a fixed route bus service.
Rides can be booked two days in advance using The Current app, online or by phone at 360-695-0123.
The Current feels like a miniature C-Tran bus: clean, spacious and accommodating with bike racks, accessible seating and is mobility device friendly.
The service celebrated its first birthday on Tuesday. The past year saw The Current serve more than 15,000 people while expanding some service areas and some operating times, according to Eric Florip, C-Tran manager of communications, marketing and customer experience.
The Current fills in some of those gaps that fixed route buses have trouble getting to. The zones The Current operates in are Washington State University Vancouver/Salmon Creek, Rose Village in Vancouver, Camas/Washougal, the Port of Vancouver and Ridgefield/La Center.
It operates in every zone from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in every zone but the port on weekends. It costs $1 per ride or 50 cents for honored and youth riders, the same price as one ride on a local bus route.
Trips on The Current must take place inside one service zone, meaning you can’t take The Current from the Port of Vancouver main office to ilani, but you could take one from the port’s main office to Vancouver’s Amtrak station.
Some of the most popular destinations are transit centers, suggesting that riders use The Current to connect with the rest of C-Tran’s network. The ilani casino is another popular location.
The Current replaced The Connector, a dial-a-ride service on a fixed route that was not as flexible as The Current and only served a few areas.
Keeping up with the demand has been a hurdle for C-Tran, although wait times for on-demand trips are under 20 minutes, Florip said, which is compatible with other ride-share services.
Demand is increasing too, as evidenced by ridership being 250 percent greater now than it was in the first quarter of 2022.
C-Tran extended The Current’s operating hours at the port, originally from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. and from 2 to 6 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., allowing for more flexibility and increased continuity with the rest of the system.
Some community leaders have expressed a desire for The Current to expand service areas and open new service areas, but Florip said that C-Tran has no plans to expand in the immediate future.
Barring unforeseen circumstances C-Tran expects ridership to increase in 2023.
“We hope to build on the success of the first year … and evaluate what the future of it is, whether that’s potentially investing more in the existing service or potentially looking at new service modes in the coming years,” Florip said.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.