It’s the end of the road for PTeRider

Posted 10/23/19

In the spring of 2016, Port Townsend residents Kate Dwyer and Myron Gauger used two eight-passenger all-electric vehicles, that had recently been unloaded from a Florida company, to launch PTeRider, the city’s first all-electric transit service and the state’s first electric shuttles.

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It’s the end of the road for PTeRider

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In the spring of 2016, Port Townsend residents Kate Dwyer and Myron Gauger used two eight-passenger all-electric vehicles, that had recently been unloaded from a Florida company, to launch PTeRider, the city’s first all-electric transit service and the state’s first electric shuttles.

On Oct. 17 of this year, PTeRider’s iconic red trolleys completed their last day of operations in town, after not only offering rides and historic tours, but also partnering with local organizations including the Port Townsend Main Street Program, the Port Townsend Film Festival, the Northwest Maritime Center, Fort Worden State Park and the Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Skulpture Race.

Company owners Dwyer and Gauger told The Leader they’d always planned to create “a successful and sustainable business,” and then sell it, but unfortunately, they’ve been unable to find a buyer, even after putting PTeRider on the market back in January of this year.

Dwyer expects to put the trolleys on the market roughly a week after the business’ closing.

“I’ll still be doing landscaping projects, and Myron has his photography business,” Dwyer said, when asked about their plans post-PTeRider. “I’m sad the business is dying, but I’m proud of having done something so unlikely for us, and so appreciated.”

The pair launched PTeRider intending it to be a short-distance taxi company, but as Dwyer admitted, “That business plan lasted about a day,” as the tourist traffic they received made it clear there was demand for guided motor tours of Port Townsend.

“Luckily, we knew enough of the local history to ad-lib the first few tours,” Dwyer said.

She said they soon developed a route and a script that they believed would properly showcase Port Townsend’s “unique history,” while affording passengers views of the city’s more notable architecture.

Dwyer described the tours as being like “a fun history class on wheels,” with the transportation being bright red eight-seater golf carts, which Gauger jokingly called “stretch limos.”

In 2017, the electric taxi and tour service won the Washington State Main Street Program’s Excellence on Main Sustainable Future Award in recognition of the number of obstacles they overcame to get their taxis on the road, including amending state law to allow low-speed electric vehicles on highways with speed limits of 30 mph or less.

This year marks both Dwyer’s and Gauger’s 70th birthdays, and they started the year by deciding to sell the business they expected to run for only two or three years.

“We’ve aged into retirement,” Dwyer said. “We wanted to run this business long enough to prove it could be done.”

Dwyer was surprised by the number of younger passengers whom she treated to local history lessons.

“I’ve met so many children, and that was one audience I wasn’t anticipating,” Dwyer said. “They went nuts over us.”

Gauger appreciated the opportunity to hit the books and study up on the city’s past.

“I got to explain to folks that they changed the name from ‘Townshend’ because they weren’t going to name it after a darned Brit,” Gauger said with a laugh. “I’ve loved showing off the county courthouse and the post office. We have amazing buildings with amazing stories.”

One aspect of Port Townsend’s history Dwyer has introduced to many people is the Chinese community that emigrated to the town in the 19th century.

“They’ve found tunnels leading out to the beach where the Chinese were brought in,” Dwyer said. “The tunnels were strewn with money all over.”

Gauger credits Chetzemoka, former chief of the S’Klallam Tribe, with “managing to keep the peace” in his day. Gauger has even pointed out that the faces carved on the post office exterior include those of Chetzemoka and his wife.

“Even we didn’t notice that before,” Dwyer said. “We have people who have lived here 20 and 30 years who have told us how much they learned from our tours.”

Thanks to those tours, Gauger now knows architecture well enough to distinguish Queen Anne from Italianate and Second Empire, although he conceded he’s gotten some other details wrong.

“After one of my tours, I was informed that I’d mistakenly referred to art deco as art nouveau,” Gauger said. “You learn by doing.”

PTeRider has offered such insights for free or discounted prices while ferrying visitors around for events such as the Rhododendron Festival and the Wooden Boat Festival.

“Along the way, we’ve been able to tell them where they can eat and spend the night,” Dwyer said. “We’re not a nonprofit, but we see it as a civic responsibility.”

For 10 months, Dwyer and Gauger sought out any buyers who could carry on and improve what they started.

“It could (have been) taken to a whole new level,” Gauger said. “We were relatively weak when it came to social media, and we did very little advertising. The vehicles were our main advertisement.”

“There’s a need to be met here in Port Townsend, and we filled one little niche,” Dwyer said.

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