Those sparkling small, white buses traveling through Ballard raised a few eyebrows yesterday.
It was the first day of Ballard's pilot free neighborhood-transit service, the Local Initiative for Neighborhood Circulation, or LINC.
As Metro bus driver Curt Olosky cruised down 22nd Avenue Northwest in his bus - decorated with colorful illustrations by area children - several pedestrians stopped and gazed curiously at the vehicle.
Olosky said only about 16 residents had ridden his bus by midday. "There haven't been too many people, but that's not a good indicator," Olosky said. "It's too early."
Six Metro small buses circulate through the Ballard area from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. Two of the routes are flexible; drivers can drop passengers at requested intersections in the pilot area.
Each bus route originates at downtown Ballard's Bergen Place, which is where Ballard resident Sandy Butcher hitched a ride yesterday afternoon. Butcher, who doesn't own a car, welcomes the neighborhood service.
"I think this will be great. It goes closer to my house" on Northwest 56th Street, she said.
Butcher said LINC is especially useful for residents who live some distance from major arterials, where the larger Metro buses run.
Her only suggestion to LINC project planners: "Expanding, that's what I'd like."
The LINC service area extends from downtown Ballard to Northwest 70th Street and as far east as 14th Avenue Northwest. That cuts off many potential users, but planners say they designed the project according to what they could afford on their $500,000 budget.
Ed Ronnin, a Ballard resident for 40 years and a LINC passenger yesterday, said planners should consider moving the outer boundary of the LINC service area to Northwest 85th Street to increase the passenger load.
But he said the service now works nicely. To get service, all residents have to do is wave. The waiting time for buses is about 20 minutes.
"This idea will catch on once people become familiar with it," he predicted.
LINC is an element in Mayor Norm Rice's vision for Seattle mass transit. The six-month project will help city officials better assess residents' mass-transit needs.
Rice and other city officials will attend an official kickoff ceremony at noon tomorrow at Bergen Place, at Ballard Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street.
For information about LINC, call 287-8463.