Key Peninsula resident Donna Gates-Smeall struggles to get around due to her disabilities and lack of public transportation on the Key. Pierce Transit canceled its Key Pen route in 2011 due to budget cuts. That left her — along with many others including seniors who can no longer drive — isolated and cut off from their link to the Purdy Park & Ride, where they could take a bus to Gig Harbor or Tacoma.
The Mustard Seed Project, a Key Peninsula nonprofit focused on aging in place for seniors, saw transportation as one of the major needs and has been providing rides to seniors through a volunteer driver program. Last year, the organization partnered up with the Peninsula School District to expand transportation via the KP Schoolbus Connections. This program provides free rides on Tuesday to the general public using school buses — which would otherwise be traveling down the peninsula empty after dropping kids off at Vaughn and Evergreen elementary schools. Two routes take riders to the Purdy Park & Ride (which is en route to the school district bus barn) in the morning, then back to the Key in the evening; there is also a midday express run.
Donna sometimes relies on The Mustard Seed’s volunteer drivers to take her to the park and ride, or gets up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a ride with her husband. But she feels the Tuesday bus gives her a way to restore her independence because she doesn’t have to count on other people to help her get around.