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Boarding an Island Transit Tri-County Connector 411W Bus at March's Point, Anacortes

AvgeekJoe Photo: Boarding an Island Transit Tri-County Connector 411W Bus at March’s Point, Anacortes

Folks, the future of the Tri-County Connectors is uncertain but I promised you an update.  As you may know, Representative Dave Hayes has put on the table a modest proposal to, “provide $1 million to restart an important bus transit route that, until last June, operated between Camano Island and Everett.”  The catch is that fares must be charged to access the money.

Recently, the Island Transit Board had a discussion about this and is tentatively supportive of Representative Hayes’ efforts:

One thing worth noting is that it’s now 21 April and no final decision has been made even to keep the County Connectors going.   Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson (Republican) is really attempting to force the beginning of public hearings on the service change with more passion and vigor than Island County Commissioner Rick Hannold’s (Republican) pontificating bordering on rambling about the need for a fare.

One should note that come Friday will be 67 days before the possible end of this service.  Sixty seven days.  Yet it seems Island Transit Board has been timid since knowing there was a crisis in November.  At least Island Transit staff have a contingency plan if there is no state support.  If I may quote from my recent feature on the Tri-County Connector crisis:

…These proposed connections are highly problematic.  That’s if Island Transit Board … decides to keep the Island County Connector.  One option, called “Proposal 2” and page four (4) of this Scribd link shows a proposal to only serve Deception Pass.  For Skagit Transit (Skagit County’s county level transit net), they’d have to make it to Cornet Bay to link up with Island Transit at all.

The other option best explained on page 8 shows a schedule that allows commuters to get off the main islands of Island County, but not necessarily get back.  Commuters seeking to leave Whidbey would have to be ready to accept a 3 PM departure from Harbor Station, Oak Harbor to arrive at Skagit Station at 4 PM.  The bus would then depart at 4:10, run to Camano and arrive at 4:40 PM – passing the bus going the other way.  To get from Camano to Whidbey you’d have to leave Camano at 3:30 PM, arrive Skagit Station at 4:05 PM, then leave Skagit Station, Mount Vernon at 4:15 to arrive at Harbor Station, Oak Harbor at 5:15 PM.  So if you work in Everett and need to get to Camano in the afternoon but miss that first northbound Skagit Transit 90X connection from Everett to Skagit Station, Mount Vernon which supposed to arrive at 4 PM but can easily be delayed… you are totally stranded.

So what is the solution?  One option may be delaying these runs until starting at 5 PM or 6 PM.  There already are plans for a northbound run starting at 6:35 AM and another southbound run at 6:45 AM.  Or chucking the 9:35 AM northbound & 9:55 AM southbound routes and making another late afternoon or early evening run.

With this Proposal 1 in play thanks to Representative Dave Hayes, the focus should be on commuters.  Doubly so with fares being required to get the $1 million state match for the biennium.  Gone are the days when a $6 million biennium start-up grant could be lobbied for this route.  Make sure to e-mail your thoughts on this

But even with the recent fiasco around ORCA & Link Light Rail, I’m sure many of you would agree with Representative Hayes, “Riders need to have skin in the game.  All other transit systems are charging a fare. Many people who were using the Island Transit Everett Connector before it closed told me they would have gladly paid the fare, especially if it would have kept the route open. They’re willing to pay, so this amendment makes that a requirement in order to release those funds.”

Ultimately, let’s hope Friday the Island Transit Board will at least commit to the route and public outreach.  67 days to go… with a state legislature giving signals of going into indefinite deadlock over budgets.

In other Island Transit news, Oak Harbor Mayor Scott “Studley” Dudley who is widely credited with removing Martha Rose from the Island Transit Executive Director position last year is not seeking reelection due to his inability to work with the Oak Harbor City Council.  However, former Island Transit Boardmember Jim Campbell who graciously resigned from the Island Transit Board last year will give current Oak Harbor City Councilman Bob Severns a run for the money in the quest to be Mayor of Oak Harbor, Island County’s largest municipality.  If the Whidbey News-Times newsroom are worth their salaries, they’ll ask about Island Transit.

It’s safe to say North by Northwest would have endorsed “Studley” for Mayor based on cleaning Island Transit up and forcing the discussion of new revenue streams to Island Transit.  His looming presence and legacy in the Island Transit debate will be deeply missed.

9 Replies to “North by Northwest 60: Update on the Tri-County Connector Crisis”

  1. Is there any danger to the 80X or 90X on Skagit Transit’s side? What is the status on these?

    1. Dana W, Skagit Transit has promised to keep those runs going without a grant. No worries – whew!

  2. So totally unrelated to this story, but I’ve been thinking about your suggestion that the Future of Flight needs transit…

    I totally agree that the museum is a big tourist draw and deserves much better transit service than it has.
    But even you must agree that Community Transit is struggling against a major funding crisis. They are just now barely getting a skeletal Sunday service. I just can’t support giving the Future of Flight frequent weekend service when the folks in other part of the county are only getting service every 2 hours.
    Also as you probably know, the most expensive part of running a bus is the driver sitting up front.

    So here’s my thought… King County Metro has been experimenting with alternative services and one is a program where Metro supplies a vehicle (typically a DART style van that can carry up to 15 passengers), Metro maintains that vehicle, but a community group provides the paid driver.

    A variant of that could be perfect for the Paine Field museums. The museums could pay a part-time driver (or even better, use a volunteer) to operate a van provided by Community Transit along a route that connects some major transportation hubs (like the Everett Transit Center and a Swift Station) to the Paine Field museums.

    Of course it will all get much easier when the Seaway Transit Center is built. At that point the museum could run a shuttle to and from the transit center.

    I know it’s not a perfect solution but I think it strikes a balance between giving the museums service, but doing it in a cost effective way.

    1. Ricky;

      This has been discussed. The Future of Flight is not in the transportation business. All we’re asking for is a Route 113 route diversion every other half-hour run during the workday and every weekend run. It’s small, impact is minimal and only fair.

      Grateful you’re willing to be more than just a guy who says NO. The Seaway Transit Center may be an end-point to a special line to link it, the Future of Flight & Route 113 – a new idea 100% thanks to you.



  3. Isn’t using transit (and paying taxes for public services) “skin in the game” already? Especially given that the costs associated with installing and running a fare collection system.

    How, exactly, do Island Transit riders not have “skin in the game?”

    Requiring fare collection sounds like a political move that might end up damaging the system more than the meager income it would generate. And given the number of anti-transit voters and politicians, that might be the goal.

    This has been bothering me ever since the news on the connector came out.

    1. Jon, when everybody pays a transit fare, it means we’re paying up-front for the service – not just thru taxes. It’s a way to force transit agencies to be more responsive to us and a way to make taxpayer support more palatable.

      It’s a matter of the damage of losing grant dollars completely rather than partially or some damages that can be mitigated against…

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