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An Island Transit Bus Banged Up...

Below is my view of the simple tasks Island Transit is going to need to do to restore transit advocacy community confidence.  Am publishing the day before Island Transit Board Meeting the 17th at 0930 at Island Transit HQ so the Island Transit Boardmembers get the cold water memo.  Because quite frankly… we need to fix Island Transit before we fund Island Transit or we transit advocates are done here.

  1. Island Transit must be 100% forthcoming about its financial struggles: Any further deception or opacity, especially with Island Transit still bleeding red ink, is just going to make us transit advocates turn on Island Transit.  A backdrop of Island Transit scandals will only detract from the good work done by Skagit Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro and Sound Transit for starters.  Already we transit advocates will have to contend with addressing state legislation being drafted that could significantly alter the operations of the many, the good transit agencies of this state.
  2. Island Transit must stop accruing debt and create a Strategic Recovery Plan: Island Transit needs to assure its creditors and general taxpayers alike that Island Transit will stop accruing debt, pay down the debt Island Transit accrued, get back on track with paying its insurance pool premiums, become less dependent on grants and if the Federal Government requests it the repayment of certain grants.  If Island Transit can do these things, then folks will start to entrust Island Transit again with their money.  If not, well then…
  3. Island Transit must develop and execute immediately an Audit Compliance Plan: Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley – Oak Harbor’s alternate Island Transit boardmember – recently said at a Citizens for a Better Island Transit meeting that there will be State Auditor’s Office findings into Island Transit for financial health and not having records available for starters.  There are also concerns the grant money used to build the new Island Transit ornate headquarters were abused.  I personally have also tasked the State Auditor’s Office to look into the serial meetings the former Island Transit Executive Director held with Island Transit Boardmembers as well.  Without a plan to be in compliance with the State Auditor’s Office, how can we trust Island Transit with our money when other transit systems can and do comply but are starving for funds?  Frankly we got transit agencies here on the mainland with issues of our own… why should we transit advocates advocate subsidizing audit noncompliance and Heaven Forbid disrespect towards our State Auditor? WHY?
  4. Island Transit needs to have a backup budget not dependent on grant funding: Treating grants as entitlements is not just insulting to the taxpayers whom provide those grants, but also bad fiscal practice.  Some would argue this policy alone led to Island Transit having 5, going strong on 6 end-of-fiscal-year deficits.
  5. If Island Transit wants state grants funded by 38 other counties, then it must provide reliable service to connect to Skagit Transit and the Clinton Washington State Ferries Ferry Terminal: Even if this means cutting folks off of other runs/routes; why should Washington State pay into a transit network that the other counties cannot access?  Why not then just have Island County with the highest sales tax possible for transit pay its own system and its own way?  With Paine Field – a major Washington State economic generator – needing more transit service and a few transit agencies still in the hole who haven’t acted immorally why should users of those systems such as Pierce Transit, Everett Transit and Community Transit carry the load for Island Transit’s leaders’ prioritizing an ornate headquarters over fiscal stability?
  6. Island Transit needs a new Executive Director whom is not from Island County, preferably soon: The tardy departure of Martha Rose and her insubordinate financier mean that Island Transit’s rudder is broke but replaceable.  One would hope the Island Transit Board would focus on getting this vital task done – and preferably hire an Executive Director outside of Island County loyal to no Island County political clique.  Having a real leader will go a long way to rebuilding public trust.
  7. Island Transit needs to be implementing an advertising program: Island Transit needs the money, period.  If that means having an ad for Oreos or preferably an Island County business on the side of an Island Transit bus, okay then.  There was a time when progressives such as this Canadian Tyee.ca fellow could write gleefully “Blessedly ad-free” regarding Island Transit; but Martha Rose’s focus on an ornate headquarters instead of a basic headquarters replacement and not service makes Island Transit seeking advertising funding to address points 2 & 3 an immediate necessity.
  8. Island Transit needs to study charging fares with public input: At this time asking riders to pay for the mismanagement of Island Transit is unfair as I’ve explained.  But Island Transit needs to lose the dependency on grants with fiscal constraints at federal & state levels.  A study into fares with public input into both scoping and a draft is necessary to rebuild trust.
  9. Island Transit needs to have a Zero-Based Budget: Things like participating in a trip to Alaska promotion for somebody who uses fare free Island Transit just really lacks sense at any time – especially now.  Nor does deferring the insurance premium.  Nor does setting up your budget to where you have to hold a check because you were too grant dependent and budgeted with the wrong priorities.  It’s time Island Transit budgeted on priorities like paying insurance, fixing the reported problems with its headquarters and Paratransit instead of for instance having a trip to Alaska promotion.
  10. Island Transit needs to serve their primary customer US Navy a heckuva lot better: Yeah, for 239 years the US Navy has been the “Shield of the Republic”.  With NAS Whidbey Island and its flight operations being not just vital to the safety of the free world plus the survival of Island County’s economy, but also the enjoyment of aviation geeks worldwide why is there no Island Transit shuttle to Ault Field north of Oak Harbor?  It’s time for Island Transit to build on the success of serving America’s OLF – aka NOLF Coupeville.  Heck yeah!

Let’s just be clear here: It’s just not fair for transit advocates on the mainland with issues of our own to defend a transit agency that wastes grants funded by the same pools of grant funding that could rehabilitate transit agencies with both moral conduct and transit cuts to repair.  Transit cuts that hit riders during the Great Recession while Island Transit did not make any route or staff cuts to restore an honorable financial position until June 2014, after $2,100,000 of operating debt had piled up while the new Island Transit HQ was being built.


One last thing: This is solely about working to inoculate other transit systems in this state from the Island Transit fiascoes.  January is coming up in the window rather fast and when the State Legislature is in session, we better get it together or cut from the team Island Transit.This is a personal editorial with many sources, not a news item.  Also furthermore these views are not necessarily the views of the Seattle Transit Blog Editorial Board, hence the title.

9 Replies to “North by Northwest View 01: What It’s Going to Take for Island Transit to Rebuild Trust”

  1. “Already we transit advocates will have to contend with addressing state legislation being drafted that could significantly alter the operations of the many, the good transit agencies of this state.”

    What? Is the state aiming more torpedos at Metro, ST, and CT?

    1. Mike, I can’t get into specifics but my inside source in Olympia tells me some stuff is being drafted to prevent another Island Transit fiasco. Possibly more could be on the table – like electing folks to transit boards. Just wait until January… the floodgates are gonna open.

      Frankly I want to put on notice Island Transit if they don’t get their stuff together, we will cut them off.

      1. Still no one is “incharge” at Island Transit. The remaining administrative staff has not made a single decision without Martha telling what the outcome would be that they just do not know how to do it. Refering to Island Transit as a “ruterless ship” is being polite. It is amazing in the light of how much tax revenue was wasted (45k on custom furniture, computers for empty desks etc) . still not one person on the administrative staff has been let go. Overr 10k per month is salary on the information technology department with perks: cars I-phones, note pads etc is the norm. No recovery plan has been presented by anyone. Just board of non directors claiming no knowledge and the loss of revenue started as far back as 2008 not by some recent “rogue employee” not a single idea has emerged for a long term fix to this bankrupt public company. Just the hopes of further grants from the rest of the state. Close the doors and give the facilty to the public school system for a Whidbey Island School bus barn and administrative office complex. Poor Camano Island they just rolled tax dollars towards the other island’s misadventures in over spending.

      2. Clif;

        I am getting to that point too. I was the guy whose first sortie here was to get Tri-County Connector funding: https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/03/07/help-save-the-tri-county-connectors/

        I also learned today that the Tri-County Connector grant was what got Island Transit back in black in the middle of the month. That’s it, that’s how bad those folks are in managing money.

        Now just waiting for the video of today’s – 17 October – meeting.

  2. Island Transit is still operating due to the Tri County Connector grant. Unfortunately no one on the Island Transit payroll is in the position to keep applying for further grants, the main source of funding for the current business plan. Still no Strategic Recovery Plan has been presented. It as if the neighbors are watching a house on fire wondering if anyone is calling for help.

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