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A Night Picture of Island Transit 411W Turning Into March's Point
A Night Picture of Island Transit 411W Turning Into March’s Point

I’ll be brief.  I’m hopeful by now all of my regular readers have read about the future facing Island Transit’s County Connector participation.  There’s guaranteed controversy about charging fares on Island Transit.

But here’s the reality:

  1. By charging a fare, the message is transit users will have to pay up front for the transit services we use instead of just rely on sales tax subsides.  That only makes sense.
  2. Representative Hayes is right when he says, “I think riders need to have some skin in the game.”  Charging fares is going to dramatically improve the relationship between Island Transit governance and the riders, because now the Island Transit governance triad (board, director & director’s staff and upcoming driver’s union) will realize they have a financial stake in being responsive to riders.  I’ve seen for quite some time how other transit agencies that charge a fare are more reflective and responsive to rider input before going to the transit board; by charging a fare this will likely induce the same result.
  3. Island Transit is working hard to make right the issues the State Auditor found.  In one of their Monday business items in page 8 of their packet, the Island Transit Board will consider serious policy adjustments to get into audit compliance.  For instance, the Executive Director will have way more Board oversight.  For two, tighter controls are to be installed regarding  official vehicle usage.  I mention this so riders feel like they can trust Island Transit with their direct contributions.
  4. The 25-30% every year of Island Transit’s budget that’s made up of grants is being severely whittled at.  That money has to be replaced or there will be further service hour cuts.  Having fares installed will put an emphasis on service hour generation.

One last thing: Some of the Island Transit Boardmembers are championing the ORCA card as a solution including the Chairman.  I agree, as long as if we’re going to go beyond exact change into a metal farebox let’s make sure there’s some financial aid for Island Transit to purchase their first fareboxes.  I also think Skagit Transit should get into ORCA, but I digress.

2 Replies to “North by Northwest View 13: A Case for Transit Fares on Island Transit”

  1. As an alternative, maybe the thing to do is to have Island Transit start using the same farebox system that Skagit Transit uses. There’s enough cross-system usage that I think this could be justified. The magnetic cards seem to work OK for a small transit district, and having something printed on the card means you always know the balance on the thing. You would have to come up with a system that records what system received payment for what, but it seems like there should be a way to get it to do that. If nothing else, print it on the card and collect the cards when they are used up.

    One unfortunate thing about charging a fare is that the Federal Transit Administration grants change their calculation based on if a fare is charged or not, so they would probably get less FTA money. On some systems the reduction in FTA money is more than what could be recovered by charging a fare. This issue is mentioned on page 21 and a few other places on at least one FTA report examining the issue of deciding to charge a fare or not:

    It would be interesting to see what an updated report would say about Island Transit. The one from 1994 says they are a pretty effective organization at getting riders
    but obviously 20 years have gone by since then.

    1. Thanks much Glenn.

      I think peering with Skagit Transit as far as fare collection in the near term makes sense. Long-term both should go to ORCA or the ORCA replacement.

      The problem with your Federal Transit Administration argument is real simple: The state legislature has made very clear to the 10th Legislative District – which represents Whidbey Island – legislators that they are going to give very little to nothing in the way of appropriations to Island Transit unless Island Transit charges a fare.

      I’m sure once the finances stabilize in Island Transit, new studies with a new board will be done.

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