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Black & White of an Island Transit 411W at Oak Harbor
My photo of an Island Transit Route 411W Tri-County Connector

On 22 May 2015, the Island Transit Board made the gut-wrenching decision that due to Island Transit’s fiscal troubles, the lack of state support and the refusal of Skagit Transit to serve to Deception Pass to unless Representative Dave Hayes’ amendment passes stand down the Tri-County Connector on 31 July.  That means no Island Transit service not just to March’s Point, but also no Island Transit service to Skagit Station in Mount Vernon.  Island Transit will however serve North Whidbey in a limited way up to Deception Pass and provide services for Camano Island residents to link to Stanwood & Community Transit services flowing from Stanwood to points south.  Overall, although Island Transit Boardmembers were audibly if not visibly distraught at making this decision – and there’s video below, without the Hayes Amendment to provide some state funding connected to charging a fare, the money is just not in Island Transit coffers to provide linkage services between Whidbey Island & Camano Island.

To spare our Seattle Transit Blog e-mails as I too am on e-mail subscription, I’ve put in a Read More jump below.  Also figure some of you may not be interested…

As an example of Island Transit’s slow speed in making decisions, although Island Transit knew there was a crisis in November, Island Transit took until almost the end of May to make a decision.  The same Island Transit Board that is only now putting out for tender advertising revenue when such revenue could have allowed for some Whidbey-Skagit connectivity.  Island Transit also is still having problems with building up reserves and very slowly creeping towards a debate on charging a fare.

That said, the fact Skagit Transit is refusing to connect to Deception Pass State Park due to an aversion to having to provide concurrent para-transit is… many adjectives, none of which positive.  Versus an Island Transit that refuses to abandon at least some service for its own residents.

Then there’s the situation of Camano Island where Island Transit and Community Transit are able to easily link up, so Community Transit can provide service to Smokey Point and many points south from there such as Everett Station, limited service to the Boeing factories at Paine Field, and about a limited 90 minute trip to downtown Seattle.  Skagit Transit on the other hand demands Island Transit go to March’s Point 6.5 miles from Deception Pass for a Skagit Transit 40X to reach Mt. Vernon to reach Burlington & Bellingham to the north and Mt. Vernon destinations plus Everett to the south.  Commissioner Jill “Beast Mode” Johnson (Republican) sure has a good point that Skagit Transit could be quite more helpful… and responsible.

At least Island County Commissioner Richard “Rich” M. Hannold (Republican) lit into Island Transit Board & Management for dragging their feet on charging a fare and answers on why five (5) dispatcher positions.   It seems Island Transit is beginning to realize a fare is inevitable and yes, Island Transit does need 5 dispatchers as dispatchers manage the system, there needs to be a spare dispatcher and dispatchers have AM & PM shifts.  Furthermore, Commissioner Hannold made clear he wants to open the door to very limited Saturday service inside Island County.

Island Transit Board Chairman Rick Almberg made very clear the need to ration the “water” called fiscal support knowing no major rescue package is inbound or will be inbound.  The Chairman did direct Island Transit staff to have public outreach, start making the transition to a transit fare to “improve our known cash position” and the beginning of a PR campaign of letters to various legislators & transit agencies such as Skagit County.  As that PR campaign spins up, expect some sorties here on Page Two.

Of course, if Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King wants to keep the State Senate Republican and give a joyful whack to progressives agitating to continue fare free, Senator King just might want to help his junior State Senator Barbara Bailey by passing the Hayes Amendment to provide limited county connector services contingent on a fare.  Senator Bailey’s office is very clear Island Transit’s county connectors are her top transportation priority.  A big prompt to get Island Transit to charge fares, the Hayes Amendment would create.  It’s now vital to the North by Northwest transit area the Hayes Amendment passes the final state transportation budget.

Ultimately, no one should be suddenly shocked at this decision, a decision even yours truly supports.  Without state support or a lesser amount attached to a fare as per the Hayes Amendment, Island Transit just cannot continue to provide inter-county connectivity.  Skagit Transit and Community Transit have made very clear they’re not going to stretch their transit nets into Island Transit due to Skagit Transit’s fear of induced demand for para-transit the last 6.5 miles to Deception Pass and Community Transit’s long list of unmet needs.

Below is the video I’ve created of the Island Transit Board deliberations for your perusal.  Special thanks to Gayle Zachau-Kirk, US Navy Veteran for taking and posting the original videos for us.

17 Replies to “North by Northwest 63: Barring Rep. Dave Hayes Amendment Passing, the Tri-County Connector Will Die 31 July”

  1. Island Transit will cease to be an operating concern if they go through on the idea of collecting a fare.

    I’m not surprised, it took 5 years of Sales Tax collections to come up with enough starting capital.

    All these silly greedy loons out on the island… Are they at least atheists, so there’s no hypocrisy involved?

    As for Skagit, and cost of paratransit, they already provide the paratransit service, as the Route 49 illustrates.

    Skagit has the Bellingham/WWU taint of undertrained planners with poor grammatical skills.

    1. Hey Brian;

      Thanks for signing your name. That said the issue is paratransit to South Fidalgo Island – not downtown Anacortes.

      I don’t care for your statement, “Skagit has the Bellingham/WWU taint of undertrained planners with poor grammatical skills” without more evidence. Please explain.

  2. I do not single out individuals for ridicule, especially if that ridicule derived no lasting benefit. It also isn’t just Skagit.

    Anyway, as far as the 49, it is operated by a paratransit operator, not fixed-route.

    Skagit could also designate the service as an “express” if they wished (extend the 40x for example) and the FTA paratransit shadow would not apply.

    Way back, Skagit (known as SKAT back then) used to have a pocket service in South Fidalgo, but even that would not traverse the Deception Pass bridge. Skagit is likely not interested in providing the connection because there is not enough ridership to justify it, or they are planning on doing a 30-day notice change. This was how the 40x was started.

    Also, Mr. Graska doesn’t have a lot of friends up here… Something about a transmission kickback.

    1. Brian,

      Good stuff this time around. I’m for an express route in this instance. Getting SKAT to the Deception Pass State Park would be a good balance for these tough times.

  3. I would be interested in knowing where this idea about Skagit not wanting to provide Paratransit service to that area came from. I didn’t hear a source for this on the video or see it in the Blog entry; if I missed it somewhere I apologize.
    We should all remember before bashing Skagit that both they and WTA also lost a ton of State money when those grant funds dried up, yet both of those agencies managed to keep full service running, including their connector routes between Bellingham, Mt. Vernon and Everett. Skagit also brought in the 40X last summer when Island dropped the March Point to Mt. Vernon run.
    I know that there are many areas inside Skagit’s service area that they have targeted as needing expanded service, and as a Skagit County taxpayer, I support the decision to focus their funding in those areas instead of picking up the slack for Island Transit for a second year in a row.
    I feel very sorry for the folks that will be losing their service due to Island’s financial mis-management, but the blame for this loss of service should be laid completely and totally at the feet of Island Transit Management. Blaming Skagit for even a small part of this is just wrong. They have managed their money wisely and lived up to their part if the bargain.

    1. John,

      I would watch the video again and listen to Jill Johnson’s comments. I do lay much of the blame at the previous Island Transit Board & Administration.


      1. Thanks Joe,

        Listening again to these Board member’s comments makes me believe that they are either engaging in some Washington D. C. style spin control, or they just have not bothered to do their homework.
        The tri-county connectors were designed to be shared between the 3 transit agencies. WTA and Skagit continue to run their agreed – to portions of the service. Island administered the grant and took a larger share of the funds, yet they still can’t keep their portion of the services running.
        Contrary to the Island Board Chair’s comments, these routes were not supposed to just go away once the grant funds dried up. Per Rep. Hayes’ Op-Ed piece last year, the state money was there as a way for the agencies to start the service, then bring the funding “in house” when the grants ended. Both WTA and Skagit planned for this, Island obviously did not.
        Ms. Johnson’s comments seem designed to shift the focus and blame for this loss of service away from Island’s misdeeds and mismanagement. As you correctly pointed out Joe, Island kept putting off this decision for months. What was Skagit supposed to do, just hold tens of thousands of dollars worth of funds out of their budget waiting for a decision? Hire drivers with the “hope” that there would be work for them?
        Whether or not Skagit runs service to the south end of Fidalgo Island may be a totally different deal than crossing the bridge to meet Island at Cornet Bay. After this type of bashing from the Island Board, why would Skagit ever want to work with them again?

      2. John;

        Great comments. I’ve got a lot of follow-up work to do – in part to your last comment.

  4. In my opinion, I think it’s time for Island Transit to start charging a fare. I’m starting to wonder if they are worried that there will be issues involving situations at the fair box. If people depend on public transportation, they would be willing to pay for it. Trust me. Although charging a fare would help only a small percentage to get the system back on track, it will help.

    As far as the issue with Skagit Transit not wanting to serve Island County, I would not be surprised if it’s all because of a budget. Not only does it cost a lot of money to create a route, but it also costs quite a bit to keep a fleet fueled and maintained. Most buses take up a lot of fuel (at least 25 gallons a day) and as we know, fuel isn’t cheap. They also may not want to serve passengers within Island County as well (which can be contracted with Island Transit to not serve their passengers).

    Overall, I’m quite disappointed to see that they are canning both 411s and they were the the major routes within Island County. My thoughts go out to those who have to rely on them to cross county lines.

    1. Thanks Brandon as I am quite reliant on 411W. I am deeply disturbed at the amount of time wasted before even a study into charging fares!

      More later

  5. Joe,

    You probably have access to more “inside info” than I do. I don’t ride the bus nearly as much as I used to due to being retired, but I still like to keep up with how my tax dollars are being spent.
    I remember when Skagit transitioned from being free to charging fares. There was a period of adjustment for riders and drivers, but all of these horror stories about how fares slow down the routes, passengers fumbling for change, etc. are nonsense.
    The way I understand it, the agency will have to spend some initial money equipping their fleet, but they will eventually get it back.
    They also lose some ridership, but that also comes back. Island is going to have a real hard time getting back in the public’s good graces if they keep dragging their feet on this issue. Even though transit agencies typically don’t make a lot of money through fares, how can they turn their back on ANY revenue at a time when they are continuing to cut service to the public?

    1. Great comment. I spoke to a source inside Skagit Transit who doesn’t want to be named right now who told me the Island County Commissioner comments surprised me and it’s “super important” Island Transit back off of this tack, get on with charging fares and right their own ship.

    2. Given the rationale and circumstances for charging fares, cash handling may be something for Island Transit to stay out of.

      It DOES slow down boarding, but at the levels of activity we’re talking about that’s not incredibly important, still, you need a simple system.

      Industry best practice for the easiest setup in this situation:
      – All ORCA, cashless
      – standard transfer policy
      – standard fee for card
      – participate in LIFT
      – Offer day, monthly passes (for visitors consider 3 & 7 day)
      – Set up a good distribution network so everyone can get their ORCA Card and enjoy regional transit!
      – Charge a fair price to hit 20% farebox recovery or better

      As far as the ADA service issue, it’s something that should have never been mandated on transit. The physical changes to make system use possible are overwhelmingly positive but door-to-door paratransit service could be better handled as a County responsibility so that everyone in a wide area would have a single service provider and there would be no gaps or measuring how close you are to a certain kind of route. The current system is a mess and that’s reflected in the price of the subsidies. That’s not for Island or Skagit Transit to solve, it’s a national issue, or should be. Beyond paratransit costs, I think both agencies are probably looking to reduce the insurance risk of driving over the DP bridge. Peanuts, in the whole picture, but when you’re starving…

      I wonder if the IT board and Sk + CT Boards, would consider consolidation. It’s always a hard sell, and not always the right move, but maybe here? idk. CT could annex Camano to it’s PTBA (with a vote) and, Skagit could absorb the rest of Island County (with another vote).
      Is this IT yard space on the N. end of Camano? That could be a sweetener for CT to reduce some long deadhead movements with a N. Base, though Smokey Point/Arlington would probably be a better choice of location if looking.

  6. Consolidating bus services would be a grand idea but with the funding coming from different tax structures in different counties it would make it impossible to marry the group into one unit. IT still blames past management and board members but have yet to provide a written recovery plan to the public. Write the recovery plan and publish it on the web site or local papers, have true transparency with the public whose tax dollars you continue to waste. Being publicly “snippy” with other transit organizations is no more productive then Martha Rose’s Iron Fist style of management. Has no lesson been learned in all the mistakes IT has made and continues to make?

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