Ben Franklin Transit is hoping to offer something new by running a special bus to connect people to wineries in Prosser on select weekends and starting a commuter bus to Hanford.
The wine bus service is expected to run five weekends between May and September as part of a pilot program to see what the demand is.
The idea stemmed from a Prosser community meeting and was requested by operators of hotels, wineries and RV parks, said Jim Milne, executive director of the Prosser Chamber of Commerce.
"They were bringing to light the problem we all knew we had here that we can't move people around in Prosser," Milne told the Herald. "We have two huge wine areas, one on the northwest edge and east end of town, and we're trying to come up with a way to have some type of people mover service."
Milne contacted transit officials to discuss the idea, which was recommended to Benton Franklin Transit board members at their meeting last week.
"It looks like we actually have the ability to provide that service, and it's another way to provide some hours to people based in Prosser," General Manager Tim Fredrickson told the board. "We think this will be a good demonstration to see if there really is a demand for that service to the city of Prosser."
The special service would run 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays on the five selected weekends. A normal day pass, which can be bought from the driver, is all that's needed to use the service. The first weekend, May 25-26, it will cost $3.50, but the day pass goes up to $4 beginning June 1.
Fredrickson told the board that he estimates it will cost $10,000 to run the service for the pilot project. The proposal did not need board approval.
In addition to the Memorial Day weekend service, other weekends are June 15-16, July 20-21, Aug. 17-18, and Sept. 28-29.
Milne explained the weekends selected correspond with some annual festivals or events: Scottish Festival in June, Art Walk and Wine Gala in July and the Great Prosser Balloon Rally in September.
"We think it's going to be a huge help to people visiting in town," he said. "Our hotel stays are not one night at a time. They are two days-plus. We are a wine destination."
The service will go from Vintners Village on one end of town at Interstate 82's exit 80 to the wineries near exit 82 on the east end of town, with stops along the way to get people into downtown Prosser to peruse antique shops, gift shops and more, he said.
The six stops will be at: Depot Square, 1230 Bennett Ave.; The Barn Motor Inn, 490 Wine Country Road; Best Western Inn at Horse Heaven, 259 Merlot Drive; Vintners Village; Prosser Wine & Food Park; and Wine Country RV Park, 330 Merlot Drive.
People wanting to go out to Prosser from the Tri-Cities can use Route 170 to connect to the special service in Prosser, Fredrickson said. He also explained that it will be operated as an open-door service, meaning people can get on and off at any stop on the route, so there are no federal charter regulations that have to be met.
And anyone can use the service when it's operating -- it's not just for people planning to visit the wineries.
"We hope this is the start of a program we can run ourselves and operate independently ourselves in the future," Milne said. "Our hope is to develop it into a May through end of September, Friday, Saturday, Sunday run. ... We'll just have to see what happens with the pilot program."
At Hanford, starting a transit service to the Plutonium Finishing Plant is in the conceptual phase right now, with transit officialslooking to see if there's enough interest to support it.
Kathy McMullen, the transit's service development manager, said she intends to hand out fliers to see if there's enough interest to run a 40-person bus out to central Hanford on a daily basis.
McMullen told the board that the service would have to pay for itself, and they've estimated it would cost about $200 per person per month to cover that if the bus was full.
Riders would have to pay each month in advance and if there wasn't enough interest, the service would be canceled.
Hanford workers interested in signing up will be asked to provide the times they need to arrive and depart and where they need to go and transit officials will try to put a route together.
"The first step is to put a flier out there," she said. "It's experimental."
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; email@example.com