North by Northwest View 19: Time for Camano Island to Pivot to Community Transit?

A Quick Snap of Island Transit Route 411C
My recent photo of an Island Transit 411C Camano Bus

Full disclosure: The below letter to the editor by me ran in the Stanwood-Camano News today.

Bus service

Camano should switch to Community Transit

Dear Editor:

Island Transit is removing its county connector services from Whidbey to Skagit.

This is after the unilateral withdrawal of the Camano to Everett Island Transit connector service last June. Without state support, Island Transit cannot continue to provide those services. Representative Dave Hayes has finally proposed a fare on Island Transit in return for some state support.

But perhaps I have a thought for my Camano Island friends: Maybe with the lassitude that Island Transit board meetings are run, where charging a fare to reenlist state support in many meetings since November when the county connector crisis came to light has not happened and with the Island Transit board being so inaccessible to Camano Island.

Perhaps the time is right for Camano Island to change to Community Transit as your transit provider.

At least Community Transit’s finances are in great shape. has good public communications and is about to seek a three-tenths of 1 percent tax increase to dramatically increase service. Can you say any of those things about Island Transit?

Just something to debate – namely changing transit taxing districts to get a better provider.

Figured some of you in the transit advocate community would want to discuss this.  Island County Commissioner Rick Hannold also told the Stanwood-Camano News in part:

The board is not sure how long the routes will be cut. Hannold said they are investigating the initiation of a fare system that would help to alleviate the burden of the 411 routes’ additional expense.
“I’ve been pushing for a fare system since the get-go,” Hannold said. “Riders need to have a stake in this; it doesn’t come for free.”
A fare system, he said, would be helpful in many ways.
For one, the House and the Senate have approved funding for the Everett connector, Hannold said, though it is awaiting the governor’s signature. To benefit, though, Island Transit is required to include fare boxes in each of their buses.
Additionally, if fare boxes are installed, Island Transit can apply for Medicaid reimbursement for paratransit expenses –a special service for disabled individuals not accommodated by the regular bus service.
Paratransit costs Island Transit approximately $1.5 million per year.
In April alone, Hannold said, the cost for paratransit services was $70,000, while Island Transit spent $180,000 on all other services combined.
“It’s costing us so much, and we’re required by law to provide it,” he said. If they could alleviate some of the cost associated with that service, Hannold thinks money could be redirected toward other things, which may include reintroducing the 411 routes down the road – a service that has cost them around $500,000 over the past six months.
“We just don’t have it,” Hannold said.

Figure this will help fuel the debate that should have happened, like oh, last November.  I even had inside information on 2 July of 2014 this was a distinct possibility.  Yet no action until too late… the blame falls on both Skagit Transit & Island Transit for not being proactive with contingency planning for this day.

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

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…

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

North by Northwest 60: Update on the Tri-County Connector Crisis

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.

North by Northwest 57: Senator Bailey Is On the Case…

View post on

State Senator Barbara Bailey, R, 10th LD

Just wanted to reassure all my readers that Senator Barbara Bailey is on the Island Transit county connector case.  One of Senator Bailey’s aides reached out yesterday to assure me, the County Connectors are Senator Bailey’s “number one transportation priority” and is very much working with Representative Dave Hayes on kick-starting Island Transit, Version 2.0.

Today the Everett Herald kindly quoted the State Senator as saying in support of Rep. Hayes’ rescue, “We as a state realize Island Transit is trying very hard to recover,” she said. “I think the time has come for them to charge fares. The cost of operating a transit system that is very much needed needs to be shared by everyone.”

I’m sure the Senator would agree with this archived Seattle Transit Blog post by Roger Valdez, one of Seattle’s intelligentsia, defending the virtue of fares:

The flawed logic comes home to roost when you consider that if we simply stopped charging for transit at the fare box—essentially creating a system wide “free ride zone”—then all those other taxes we pay would get more expensive to make up the difference. Sure, prices at the fare box have gone up, but abolishing them would mean all the other times we pay for transit would just get more expensive.

I would suggest to the We Won’t Pay folks that it is “free” that got us into this mess in the first place. The idea—as suggested on the We Won’t Pay website—that society and the economy should provide “Everything for Everyone” is what has driven government policy for the last 6 decades.

One would hope now Senator Curtis King (Republican) could please support this State House amendment to the transportation budget.  Please.

North by Northwest View 14: Public Comment for Island Transit’s 13 April 2015 Meeting
Author photo from recent Island Transit Board Meeting

Below is my written public comment for the 13 April 2015 Island Transit Special Meeting.  I have a $!%&@*^ last minute schedule conflict, so here goes.

As I cannot attend the Island Transit Board Special Meeting for 13 April due to a family situation, this is my public comment.  Please accept and share.

First, I strongly support a fare on Island Transit’s connector routes.  The message is transit users will pay up front for the transit services we use instead of just rely on sales tax subsides.  That only makes sense.  Furthermore, charging fares cause the Island Transit governance triad (board, director & director’s staff and upcoming driver’s union) to realize they have a financial stake in being responsive to riders and letting riders give input before decisions are made as riders’ fares replace grant dollars.

Second, I support with reservations Proposal 1 that was drawn up 23 March.  Proposal 1’s last transit runs should start Northbound at 6 PM and Southbound at 6:30 PM so as to help commuters.  It is very clear to me that as Republicans are on the rise in the state legislature and wish to focus on “congestion relief” we focus the County Connectors on serving commuters.  We need to realize we will likely be asking for further state financial aid and as such by being on-message with their goal of “congestion relief” we can work collaboratively to accomplish the same goal.  Furthermore by showing transit can result in effective congestion relief and helping keep disabled persons off of the dole, we align Island Transit with traditional small-c conservative causes making it more palatable to support Island Transit, Version 2.0.

Third, I did a bit of mathematics Sunday night in my consternation both at my absence and at Proposal 1’s too early final runs.  With Representative Hayes’ $1 million for the biennium and if Skagit Transit was willing to participate alongside us, we could buy back each year not three runs each way at a combined annual cost of $143,547.46 as per Proposal 1 per service day but theoretically a bit over ten (10) with $500,000 per year.

So I propose Northbound shuttles at 5:35, 6:35, 7:35, 9:35, 4:00, 5:00, 6:00 & 7:00.  Southbound shuttles can start at 5:55, 6:45, 7:55, 9:55, 3:30, 4:30, 5:30 & 6:30.  Notice each shuttle is only 8 not 10.  I did that so there was some money left over to install fareboxes and as a strategic reserve if there’s a drop-off in ridership, or if I’ve oversimplified the situation.

Special thanks to Representative Dave Hayes for stepping up.  Just as I hope the first P-8A Poseidon to NAS Whidbey Island is named the USS Jim Slowik after his work on the P-8A basing, I hope when these buses for these shuttles are named – they’re named the Scott Dudley Express and the Dave Hayes Express.

North by Northwest 56: An Uncertain Future for the Island Transit Tri-County Connectors

Island Transit 411W @ Night
My Photoshop Showing Island Transit Route 411W at March’s Point at Night

Since November, Mr. North by Northwest has been dreading the day final decisions will be made on the “Tri-County Connectors” Island Transit commuter routes linking Camano Island with Mount Vernon and then linking Mount Vernon with Oak Harbor and points beyond.  Those decisions impacting about 10% of the Island Transit ridership will be made at the end of a Special Island Transit Board Meeting at Island Transit HQ Monday starting at 9:30 AM.

Now together, the Island Transit participation in the Tri-County Connectors comprised 13.5% of the Island Transit ridership in 2014 – that’s with 411W (Oak Harbor to Skagit; 92,190 riders), 411C (Camano to Skagit Station, Mount Vernon; 29.851) & the now-suspended 412C between Camano Island & Everett Station, Everett (18.419) – you can check my math HERE if you wish.  For the first three months of 2015, that’s dropped off to almost 9.8%.  So it’s easy to understand the temptation for a county-level transit agency in dire fiscal straights to reduce or eliminate long-range capability for about 10% of the ridership.  But that’s ridership commuting to/from work and arguably federal & state grantors are more gracious to funding commuters than students and tourists.

A Representative Hayes Fix for County Connectors

Today, Representative Dave Hayes (Republican, 10th District) got a proposal through the State House that just might solve a few problems with one piece of legislation.  The plan is for $1 Million to be given to Island Transit & Skagit Transit.  Furthermore, the money will be held by the State Office of Financial Management (OFM) until, “a fare policy has been adopted for the Everett connector service that achieves a farebox recovery ratio similar to comparable routes that charge a fare” as per the proposed legislation.

Multiple sources, including Island Transit Board Member Jill Johnson, believe the solution is to use this million plus fares to leverage a link between Camano & Whidbey Islands, the two main islands of Island County – and we’ll revisit this.  Furthermore, it’s very clear the state legislature and even Seattle Transit Blog commenters have extreme discomfort with Island Transit not charging a fare – aka “fare free”.

The Beginning of the End of Fare Free Island Transit?

Even though “fare free” neither created the current Island Transit fiscal fiasco nor was any different than sales tax subsidies to roads (SOURCE 1SOURCE 2), there is a serious question as to how to replace grant dollars that now are being withdrawn at least in part.  There is even the credible threat to withdraw county connector service completely – a decision that will be made deep into a 13 April special meeting at Island Transit HQ starting at 9:30 (link to agenda packet).

When it comes to transit, it’s important to realize this author’s bias is to serve more destinations – even if several transfers are necessary.  The alternatives are to deny access out and outright or put the financial barrier of a taxi fare in the way.  So obviously I’m not a “save my bus” or “one seat ride” guy.

Since the state legislature is in no mood to give direct funding to transit and the current Senate Transportation Committee Chair has said direct support of county-level transit agencies would be a “black hole that we will never, ever fill”, this may just have to do.  Obviously when the State Auditor’s Office was requested to testify in front of the State Senate Transportation Committee about their audit of Island Transit; the state legislature has deep concern in investing in Island Transit.

At least now with the carrot & stick approach with funding contingent on Island Transit charging fares, this just shows that when Representative Dave Hayes said at one point last fall, “Shifting the focus back over to the state and saying the state needs to come in and support this is not a fair statement.  Until Island Transit starts charging fares and operating in a more responsible manner, it will be a huge challenge to get additional state dollars;” Representative Hayes is a man of his word.

Potential Camano to Whidbey Connections

The problem is, these proposed connections are highly problematic.  That’s if Island Transit Board Monday at their 9 AM special meeting 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 or attend the Monday, 13 April Island Transit Board 9:30 AM meeting at Island Transit HQ.

Oh and one more thing as I wrote recently, if a Republican State Senator with the last name of Bailey, first name of Barbara that Seattle Transit Blog endorsed in 2012 could please publicly apply pressure on her caucus leaders to not just support Representative Hayes’ fix but also give more money maybe the State Senate Republicans might just realize they need to remember their reluctant transit user allies and protect a vulnerable seat come the 2016 election cycle.  But that polite request to help us in Northwest Washington needs to come from you – transfer from anti-spam and shoot off a quick e-mail please.

North by Northwest 55: Island Transit’s Recovery Story

Island Transit Route 1 Bus & the OLF Coupeville Weeds
Author photo, “Island Transit Route 1 Bus & the OLF Coupeville Weeds”

Figured as promised on Easter Sunday 2015 I’d get around to posting the Island Transit Recovery Story without further comment:


Island Transit is pleased to report it is in the midst of executing a recovery plan after having survived serious financial challenges requiring significant reductions in bus service in July and September 2014. A new Interim Executive Director was hired to implement recovery planning for future financial stability, and a new Board of Directors was appointed. At its first meeting of 2015, Island Transit’s Board adopted a stabilization plan including the following key strategies:
1. Development of a financial stabilization plan.
2. Consideration of new funding sources.
3. Review of overlapping service with other transit districts.
4. Ongoing review of all routes and schedules.
5. Investigation of collaborative transportation solutions with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI), school districts, and other qualifying organizations.
6. Discussion with neighboring public transit districts for ways to improve operating efficiencies.
Embracing these goals and strategies, the management team is aggressively monitoring, analyzing, and implementing policies and projects that will contribute to operating efficiencies and improved services. At the same time, budget levels are within approved parameters, and future service reductions must be avoided. Meanwhile, a number of new, constructive activities are underway in 2015 to set the foundation for a more promising future. Some of these efforts include:
• A carefully balanced 2015 budget.
• Continuation of the Service Enhancement Plan to reinstate and modify most transit services that were eliminated or reduced in 2014.
• Continuation of efforts to identify new sources of additional revenue.
• Development of an Asset Management Plan and accompanying Asset Replacement Plan.
• Continue regional service coordination efforts with Skagit, Whatcom, and Snohomish Counties.
As the year progresses, we will continue to plan for added weekday service, the return of discontinued service, and scheduled replacement of aging buses. Improvements and expansion in transit service will be slow in coming, but Island Transit is more encouraged and excited about its future than it was just a few short months ago. Thank you, Island County, for your continued support.

You can read the original and see the signatures on the Island Transit website’s hosted PDF.  I would appreciate it if it was, “Thank you, Washington State, for your continued grace and patience with us as we overcome bad progressive fiscal management” but alas this letter was more for Island County consumption…

North by Northwest 52: End-of-March Island Transit Update

View post on

Author Photo of the 27 March 2015 Island Transit Board Meeting

I decided to take the long way to work Friday the 27th via Whidbey Island to catch the Island Transit meeting and of course, OLF Coupeville action.  After making a few comments in support of the Tri-County Connectors with a fare, I took in what information I could from the Island Transit board meeting.  Very disappointed two boardmembers got themselves excused absences while the Board addressed failing radios after one public commentator talked about his health scare on Island Transit, a plan to make public a mission statement of recovery, making surplus various vehicles to pay for replacing a few, and implement a Request For Proposals/RFP to get advertising on the outside of the buses modeled after Whatcom Transit Authority/WTA and possibly bus shelters.

It seems regarding the bus radios Island Transit is dragging their feet, blaming the FCC and seeking “management time” as the new Board chair would put it.  One would think Island Transit with no reserves would be doing just about anything to reduce their potential liability… like maybe having cellular capable tablets as backup.

When the Island Transit letter is public, expect a copy here.  I understand the letter will focus on a recovery strategy for Island Transit.

Thanks to Glenn in Portland for noting Island Transit’s new schedules.  Seems to be the third or fourth new schedules since 1 July.

Also please note at 13 April at 9:30 AM is finally expected a decision on the Tri-County Connectors.  One Island Transit boardmember wants the decision made before the legislature adjourns hoping sufficient pressure can be created for a state legislative rescue package – an act that I’m sure STB commentators will unleash upon.  However various official observers of the situation also want & need an answer sooner rather than later.

You can watch the videos of 75-85% of the 27 March Island Transit meeting here.  Enjoy and thanks Gayle!

North by Northwest 50: Following Up…

Going for that black & white look of an Island Transit 411W at March's Point, Anacortes, WA

My Photo, “Going for that black & white look of an Island Transit 411W at March’s Point, Anacortes, WA

Two separate transit agencies are on two very interesting paths – namely Island Transit & Community Transit.

For Island Transit, tomorrow the 9th of March, the Island Transit Board will gather to discuss on the agenda, among other things:

  • Discussion of Financial Stabilization Plan and Correspondence from the Board of Directors (“Island Transit’s Recovery Story” letter)
  • Surplus Vehicles
  • New Revenue Sources [Advertising, Fares]
  • Service Issues [such as the Tri-County Connectors & service to Ault Field – the main NAS Whidbey Island campus to the north of Oak Harbor.].
  • Status of Audit Findings and Resolutions

The special meeting is planned to run from 9:30 AM until 11:30 AM, but a majority of the board can extend the meeting time to address agenda items, which seems likely to this keen observer.  I have a photoshoot scheduled tentatively at 1 PM in Mukilteo so can’t be there.

For those STB readers who may be unaware, Island Transit has an interim CEO in Ken Graska and it’s been decided to wait to seek a permanent replacement while Island Transit seeks alternative revenue streams and conducts route restructures.   Also Coupeville City Council decided to replace the controversial rep Bob Clay with Island County Human Services Director & Town of Coupeville Councilwoman Jackie Henderson.

The Everett Station Swift Terminal in a Damp Dawn
My black & white iPod photo snap of Community Transit Swift BRT at Everett Station

For Community Transit, the story’s a bit different.  First, for those few who may not have heard, the Snohomish County Council approved a lease option contingent on an Environmental Assessment for Paine Field commercial service a week ago.   But as two dueling press releases by proponents Propeller Airports and in opposition Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson posted at indicate, both pro & con can only agree the County Council vote is a step not a finale.  Major issues remain, such as addressing traffic & transit access & how many passengers will actually use the terminal on the east side of Paine Field – which could factor in any discussion about ST3 having light rail service Paine Field.

New CEO Emmett Heath arguably put it right when he wrote in Community Transit’s press release announcing his hiring, “We’re back in growth mode. Today, we have every driver and every bus out on the road, yet we know there are still unmet needs in our community,” said Heath.  The plan is to get state legislative authorization to seek voter approval to raise taxes three-tenths of one percent to fund Community Transit expansion.  Other items of a growth-focused tenure are in the works such as working well with other transit agencies and a few transit projects.

North by Northwest 35: Island Transit Is On the Naughty List…

Kodacolor of Island Transit Bus at Oak Harbor Dusk
Kodacolor of Island Transit Bus at Oak Harbor Dusk“, my photo

First, my apologies to all of you being late. Spent half of my evening chasing down a potential lead on Island Transit – and found out their ridership statistics had flaws. Do you know how? I did some Googles, fueled partially by Guy’s photojournalism noting what kind of bus Island Transit uses for Route 1, to raise some serious red flags to the intel team working to hold Island Transit to account for questionable ridership stats. Expect a news story at the appropriate time…

Teaser given of coming attractions, let’s remember that Island Transit leaders have confessed that they cannot meet the match for the state grant to the Tri-County Connector. As per previous postings, Island Transit has serious fiscal problems and state legislators have made clear Island Transit needs to quit being dependent on special appropriations. But make no mistake: One of Whidbey’s state representatives was clear back on 27 June 2014, “Island Transit must recognize that temporary grants and legislative bailouts are not sustainable sources of funding, and it needs to make the same commitment as Skagit Transit to cover the costs “in house” as promised.

However, a senior Skagit Transit official has assured Seattle Transit Blog that if/when Island Transit makes changes to 411W, Skagit Transit will be consulted. Also reviewing the recent Skagit-Island Regional Transportation Planning Organization (SIRTPO) audio, Commissioner Price-Johnson & Island Transit Boardmember – for at least the rest of 2014 – made clear Island Transit will not be allowed to abandon 411W on her watch.

Sources also indicate federal & state legislative staffs are scrambling to find a solution. The main motivation is the need for Whidbey veterans to access mainland health care, followed by general regional mobility. So the future for what according to questionable ridership statistics is 10% of Island Transit’s ridership of the Island County transit link over the Deception Pass Bridge to Skagit County & points beyond is a big fat question mark…

Perhaps maybe it’s fair to note this week the Oak Harbor City Council after getting a firm warning from Mayor Scott Dudley about the future of Island Transit to explain his strident, proactive acts to replace Mayor Dudley with Councilmember Rick Almberg who has promised to drill deep into Island Transit while “working with whomever is appointed to that board” and rebuild public trust.  Furthermore, the Island County Commissioners will be replacing their representation on the Island Transit Board before the end of the month – possibly replacing Commish Helen Price-Johnson with a reluctant Commish Jill Johnson to get Bob Clay out as Chairman. Yes, that Bob Clay who impugned the Washington State Auditors Office. One would hope somehow accountability will arrive to Island Transit before it’s too late… like before RCW 36.57A.160 (3) can be initiated to put Island Transit on the ballot via petition gathering as Bill Burnett of has threatened when public support for Island Transit on Whidbey has hit historic lows.

Editorial Comment: Yup, as goes 411W to provide regional mobility goes Island Transit – two big fat question marks.  We transit advocates can argue and believe in the merits of mass transit; but when small businesspeople don’t see the benefits, when the narrative is mostly negative, when Island Transit leadership seemingly can’t take advice to keep the ship of state, when law enforcement and federal grant managers are investigating, and when Island County has a strong Tea Party movement… the political tinderbox is dry and full of flammable material.

North by Northwest 33: Island Transit Staff Decide to Cut 411W Tri-County Connector Without Public Input? No Island Transit Link to Anacortes, Mount Vernon & Points Beyond After…?

View post on

My photoshop of my photo

Part I: Island Transit Staff Withdrawal of Grant Application Without Board Input

Island Transit, once again engages in a modus operandi of withdrawing Island Transit services without Island Transit Board input or public scrutiny. Just as Island Transit supposedly did not inform its board of its declining finances (e.g. report, STB Report on the State Auditor’s Office lashing of Island Transit) or of its second rounds of cuts where Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson said “she wanted to reopen the agency’s service cut decisions because the board was not allowed to provide direction” to the South Whidbey Record; an Island Transit bureaucrat – most likely Executive Assistant to the Director – on 18 November contacted the Skagit-Island Special Needs Transportation Committee to withdraw its, “Specific Operating Assistance to Preserve Existing Service project” application which according to a Skagit Council of Governments (SCOG) document, “would continue operations of the 411 County Connector express service from Whidbey and Camano islands” and “is the highest priority of their agency.” Basically the process to apply for state support for Island County’s participation in the Tri-County Connectors of Whatcom-Skagit-Island-Snohomish has stalled even before reaching the state legislature due to Island Transit staff unilaterally withdrawing the funding request without Island Transit Board input.

Island Transit through this process did apply and get forwarded the request for 10 new vehicles, as per Skagit-Island Human Services Transportation Project Descriptions, 2015-2017, “This project would replace five 30’ buses and five vans in Island Transit’s fleet. 70% of Island Transit’s vehicles are at the end of their life cycle according to the application.”

Island Transit did also apply and get forwarded the request for human services grants – basically grants to help disabled persons – for according to the same source, “technology replacements for security cameras and tablet computers. Project would also repaint Oak Harbor transit station, which has never been repainted, add bus shelters and provide needed maintenance tools and engine rebuilds.”

However, in a 2014-11-26 Island County Sub Region RTPO Hearing of which the audio is now online, Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson voiced concern about Island Transit’s lack of priorities. For Commissioner Johnson – a Chamber of Commerce Republican – it was about how Island Transit was taking a “human service transportation projects funding list and we’re going to paint buildings with that money? That’s odd to me. … How is paint helping anybody with a disability?” Commish Johnson went on to bemoan the lack of funds for disabled persons and besmirched Island Transit to be “not creative” with these funds.

Finally, in a through, thoughtful smackdown of the grants process, Commissioner Johnson said she’s, “sad, slash disappointed there’s money there for a community of people we try so hard to help and we’re using it to buy paint and the only thing that came forward was paint. … Just shameful, I guess, the focus I hear is the impact of the Paratransit and we can’t get enough of these routes and shoot, this was designated just for this purpose.”

Island County Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson – no relation to Jill Johnson – noted how Whidbey Island “had a high percentage of veterans that depend on the services in Mount Vernon for medical care” and “there’s no project to help that” with her hand hitting the table. As Commissioner and an Island Transit Boardmember, she wants “other opportunities in the near horizon” while looking for a strategic fix. NAS Whidbey Island Community Liaison Jennifer Meyer immediately suggested other transit providers work for the “combination of needs” in a “broad sense” for our vets, before the discussion moved on to other grant applications.

Commissioner Price-Johnson said sincerely she was, “sad about the Tri-County Connector, very sad, hopeful we might find some creative way to continue that service outside of this grant cycle because its vital.” In the past, Commissioner Price-Johnson has fought for the route but is denied the opportunity so far this time.  More after the jump for Part II: The forewarnings of this development…

Continue reading “North by Northwest 33: Island Transit Staff Decide to Cut 411W Tri-County Connector Without Public Input? No Island Transit Link to Anacortes, Mount Vernon & Points Beyond After…?”

North by Northwest 32: Island Transit’s Audit Is Recieved by the State Senate

Jennifer Lofton of the State Auditor’s Office

State Auditor’s Office Bellingham Team Member Jennifer Lofton Presenting to the State Senate Transportation Committee

Listened to today’s State Auditor’s Office (hereafter SAO for brevity) presentation to the State Senate – on TVW video and Island Transit Board Member Scott Dudley’s vimeo channel.  The SAO Audit was partially on schedule, partially requested by the State Legislature in multiple letters included one co-signed by State Senators Barbara Bailey & Curtis King (The SAO response is here).

Most of the presentation was an executive summary of the full SAO Exit Conference with Island Transit as covered HERE with video.

One thing brought up was the artwork purchased by Island Transit for their opulent headquarters.  However, the costs are eligible under the federal grants for up to 5% of the project costs.

As to the drawdown on the reserves and the inability of the SAO to speak up, the capital project of the new opulent HQ hid the reality of Island Transit’s books.  Also the failures of the now-former Executive Director to inform the Board was brought up.

 The SAO brought up the fact salaries were not approved by the board, certainly the Executive Director and the Island Transit Board did not review & act upon their contract with the Executive Director.  SAO Director of Local Audit Kelly Collins also noted in response to a State Senator Marko Lilias – a STB reader – question about how aware was Island Transit Board of their requirements, the Island Transit Board was not exactly fulfilling the responsibilities of oversight of the executive director.

Most importantly, State Senator Curtis King (Republican) went into a good ole Senatorial stem-winder as Transportation Committee Chair.  The State Senator – who I have not always liked – was bang-on when he mentioned that Island Transit receives “state funds” “that were given to Island Transit.  When all of the sudden you find, uh, an agency that is, no longer has funds available on commitments it already has made, that they’re laying off a large number of their staff, that they’re having to sell bonds, all of those kind of things that Island Transit has gone through.  It’s an indication something may be wrong and I think it’s prudent upon this body to make sure that the moneys that we give to any of these agencies are well spent and are spent in a manner in which they should have been spent.  That was the purpose of the request for the audit.”

After thanking the SAO, Chairman King went on to say, “I’m very pleased to hear Island Transit addressing these concerns.  I don’t like to see anybody go through this but seems to me there are some real concerns to be looked at here.  I hope the Board that’s there now is addressing every one of these, it’s vitally important.”

Regarding the Tri-County Connectors linking Camano to Everett and Whidbey to Skagit, Senator King said: “That there was a [an] indication that this body no longer approved or had not provided funding for a connector service that had been funded and that all of us as legislators and particularly those from that district were accused of not having, you know, not making anybody aware of that and I want the public to know that, that decision was made by this body, in, I think in 2013, and that, that Island Transit was informed of that decision, that we would no longer be funding that tran, that connector, they were well aware of that and I want the public to know that.  That they would have to apply for funds just like every other agency would have to apply which had not been the case before that.”

Those very assertions are backed up by a Representative Dave Hayes op-ed noting just this on the Tri-County Connectors.  Representative Hayes also noted that the grants were supposed to be start-up funds not a permanent funding source and this Seattle Transit Blog will be investigating the situation… expect a report in early December.  I agree with many who debated me back in 2013 such as a Transit Czar named Ben Schiendelman who wrote, “Right, so this money should really be competed for by similar rural areas across the state. … This particular set of routes had a sweetheart deal. It’s not actually equitable to all the OTHER places in the state that provide my food for this particular place to get special treatment.”  He’s right, now that this isn’t last minute some measures could be taken.

I don’t want to put or ascribe ideas to Ben, he can clearly pund for himself but to me it’s time to put advertising on the buses.  It’s time to have that difficult conversation about the logistics of putting a fare on Island Transit buses – or at least the Mount Vernon to Oak Harbor route.  At least tomorrow’s Island Transit meeting which I will be requesting the audio of will raise these issues and others such as:

• Timeline for recruiting and hiring a permanent Executive Director
• Island Transit’s Strategic Recovery Plan
• Implementing Fare Charging for Ridership
• Advertising on Buses
• Potential Surplus List
• Employee Cost Cutting Incentive Program

To which I say: Should have discussed this before Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley started barnstorming Island County Town Councils with yours truly backing him up to get a new Island Transit Board.  Happy it’s happening now.  Hope the meeting goes smoothly.

Finally, to the SAO employees reading this, a sincere thanks to you for all you do.  Most taxpayers do not have 8+ hours a day to pour over the books of our government and hold them to account.  It’s what we pay you for, and we appreciate it.

North by Northwest 29: Island Transit At A Tipping Point?

Island Transit 411W Arrives

After a withering State Auditor’s Office audit, reports Island Transit has dipped into the red and the former Executive Director forced out by the Oak Harbor Mayor deployed by his City Council to get Island Transit manageable again; one easily can perceive Island Transit is at a tipping point.  One can also perceive Island Transit is making occasional correct turns as Island Transit recovers from burning through no less than $7.72 million in reserves since January 2008 and damaged public trust – trust so damaged its disgraced former Executive Director is under criminal investigation.

 Two rounds of route eliminations became necessary.  The first round was to eliminate the Camano Island to Everett part of the Tri-County Connectors, which meant now that Camano Island residents to get to Everett had to go north up to Mount Vernon then connect on crowded Skagit Transit 90X buses to get to Everett.  Furthermore, Skagit Transit now had to connect to Island Transit at the March’s Point Park & Ride on Fidalgo Island instead of Mount Vernon with a new bus route the 40X in order to keep that link alive.  The second round which resulted in layoffs of operators and maintainers resulted in the loss of Saturday service throughout Whidbey – a huge blow to Whidbey’s valued but small tourist economy, cutbacks in Paratransit and the loss of several fixed routes.  Over 20 employees lost their jobs as well…

If you believe the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) is fair, then according to a SAO report publicly released 27 October, “The Board and management did not effectively monitor the financial activity of the Transit to ensure revenues were adequate to cover increased operational and capital expenditures.”  Only one board member has publicly apologized and resigned while others attempt to spin, igniting the anger of the Oak Harbor Mayor who will now campaign for a new Island Transit Board.

One may recall there was a letter from 10th District state legislators pointing out suggested targets for the SAO.  A spokeswoman for State Senator Bailey said, she was “very happy with the job the State Auditor’s Office has done and happy the formal process work the way it’s supposed to”.  Appreciates STB “staying on top of it” too.  The House Republicans through a spokeswoman communicated a wait-and-see approach to events…

However, in the SAO reports are plans submitted by Island Transit staff for audit compliance.  One will hope for Island Transit’s future, plans to – among other things – monitor closely Island Transit’s cash balance and hold accountable the new Executive Director will be followed through.

It’s important the Island Transit Board either show a realization of the errors of its ways or steps aside as the biggest aftershock from the Island Transit fiscal mismanagement has not hit yet.  Especially as Island Transit is deferring paying insurance premiums to the Washington State Transit Investment Pool (WSTIP) in an act that could always be called back, is over 25% grant-dependent and Island Politics exposed recently some of the overspending on their necessary new headquarters (HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE).  One grant cannot be applied for until November, and with the recent controversies may not win approval.  Island Transit currently has only one Board member – the City of Oak Harbor Mayor – putting forward ideas to raise revenue outside of grants.

At least grassroots transit advocates can take action to help Island Transit rebound – especially since the Whidbey News-Times in a 1 November editorial is supportive of the Oak Harbor Mayor’s efforts:

  1. Sign the petition demanding a forensic audit into Island Transit to get answers as to what happened to Island Transit and what is doable to repair Island Transit’s fiscal position:
  2. If you live in Island County, join with me in demanding Island Transit Boardmembers Helen Price-Johnson, Bob Clay and Jim Sundberg publicly apologize and resign as those three boardmembers were on during at least most of the loss of Island Transit’s reserves – among other issues.

Ultimately though, for Island Transit to recover, Island Transit must regain the trust of the public and do so quickly.  Especially as the Tri-County Connector grant linking Skagit County to Whidbey Island is up for renewal in January – vital to keeping Island County connected to the rest of Washington State and to Island Transit’s survival… and the State Legislature normally does not grant money to transit agencies that cannot prove they operate in a responsible manner.

North by Northwest View 02: Why Should Washington State Legislative Republicans Back Transit

Aidan Wakely-Mulroney Photo – “The Washington State Capitol; Olympia, Washington”

Voters tonight decided to keep a divided State Legislature for a multitude of reasons. But those reasons aren’t the purview of Seattle Transit Blog/STB.

The problem for us at STB is now we need to make the case to Republicans why Republicans’ self-interest is in supporting transit.  So here goes from the STB Republican-in-Chief:

Argument For 1: Republicans should realize transit is fiscally conservative versus building more highways that encourage sprawl that will require more of the following:

  • First Responders
  • Public utlilities – water, sewer, the like.
  • Public schools
  • Even more roads
  • More support staff

All of this will require more government which will require more taxes. Transit instead works to create density to protect scarce taxes – all of which confiscated from hard-working taxpayers for public services.

Argument For 2: Transit enables the disabled who cannot drive a place in our society. Instead of having disabled folks dependent on relatives or welfare, transit is an important means to a J-O-B, to community and to life.

After all, do you want an Aspergian with 1.5 good eyes and PTSD behind the wheel and running somebody over? If so, you’re certainly NOT pro-life. Transit is therefore vital to folks like I.

Argument For 3: Transit is good for the economy. Transit allows tourists to not have to rent a car or hail a cab to visit a community. Transit also pivots spending away from the automobile towards other forms of spending such as food, lodging, clothing and the like.

Argument For 4: Transit also can provide congestion relief when done correctly. Transit allows families to own only one or no car instead of two – therefore providing congestion relief. Transit allows folks to take up much less space on a road going to work than a Single Occupancy Vehicle/SOV. Transit also when serving areas of high residential density, high commercial density (malls, museums, etc) plus job creators (Paine Field, downtowns) does excellent congestion relief by taking many cars off of the road.

Argument For 5: Transit support will translate into votes with more Millennials using transit. According to a Rockefeller Foundation study, “Almost two-thirds of Millennials (64%) say that the expense of owning a car is a major reason they want be less reliant on one, including 77% of Millennials who earn less than $30,000 a year.” Furthermore from the same source, “Almost all Millennials (91%) also believe that investing in quality public transportation systems creates more jobs and improves the economy.” – no progressive website – recently wrote,

Cars are a hassle. In 2008, only 31 percent of 16-year-olds and 77 percent of 19-year-olds had a driver’s license — numbers dramatically lower than the 1978 numbers of 50 percent and 92 percent, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Even as millennials age, they’re driving less than prior generations. In 1995, 20.8 percent of autos were driven by 21-30-year-olds, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2010 Household Travel Survey. By 2009, that number had dropped to 13.7 percent.

“For baby boomers, owning a car was a coming-of-age, life-stage thing,” explains Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting in Madison, Wis. “The coming-of-age toy for the next generation is the smart phone.”

Several factors contribute to millennials’ negative perceptions of cars. “One is the expense,” says Ryan. “Millennials are the most unemployed generation, and their college debt compared to that of their baby boomer counterparts is exponentially higher. Millennials also believe cars are ecobombs — that they’re inheriting a planet that’s totally messed up, and they don’t want to contribute to it. The final kiss of death for cars? You can’t text and drive. All these things together create a perfect storm against cars.”

I can keep citing sources from Google or Yahoo or Bing upon request – that transit is an important part of winning the millennial demographic just now doing this thing called voting. Not sign-waving, not Tea Partying, not public comment sorties; but actual voting that wins elections. So unless Republicans find joy only pontificiating in the minority instead of governing in the majority; it’s time Republicans started supporting enthusiastically transit.

Argument For 6: Transit is a means of letting suburbs and cities exercise local control over transportation options. We just saw tonight Seattle vote to tax itself more to fund transit – that’s only proper, with the regressive tax code we have in this state it’s only right to have a public vote on taxes and support transit. It’s also only right for those of us who are conservative to champion local control and let local people decide what’s right for them through local governance. Republicans aren’t supposed to be the party of big mandates but the exact opposite – and as such unless we have some reforms we on the Right would be able to impose to make Sound Transit more awesome, then let the voters decide on ST3 for local control’s sake.

It’s also worth noting ST3 is necessary in the eyes of the City of Everett, Snohomish County, and the Puget Sound Regional Council for starters with more to come. All those local government folks have hit “a critical level of frustration” – and if we Republicans are truly pro-local control as we distrust Big Government, then it’s time to support the local government folks in the trenches.

That said the way Scott Dudley representing the largest city on Whidbey Island has stepped up and taken the fight to save Island Transit on is how Republicans could tackle transit. We show that we’re the ones who will be fiscally responsible, use transit as an economic growth tool and grow transit in a fiscally sustainable way. We’ve seen the progressive alternative with Island Transit – and its incompetence.

Ultimately, I’d rather see a Republican positive plan to reform transit than the obstructionist approach we’ve seen in recent state legislative sessions. If not, this whiff of power Republicans have gotten in recent years is going to slip away…

North by Northwest 28: Looping from Skagit to Whidbey to Snohomish to Skagit

North by Northwest 28

Photos from my trip

Part 1 – The Ride to Island Transit HQ

Having been inspired by Glenn in Portland and fueled in part by a genuine fear of losing Island Transit’s 411W due to Island Transit cutbacks; I decided with the very genuine need to park a video camera at the Washington State Auditor’s Office (hereafter SAO) Exit Conference with Island Transit on 24 October for STB purposes to make a loop trip.  I started from Skagit County around to Island Transit HQ south of Coupeville to the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry to the Future of Flight and then back to Skagit.  I’ve also decided to instead of imbedding every photo to hyperlink most to the Imgur album.

I decided due to the very real threat the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) Exit Conference being moved up before 10 AM to where I could not arrive and video the entire conference to take A Better Cab [(360) 755-9262] (which I recommend for your Skagit taxi needs since 2007) to the Chuckanut Park & Ride.   Yes, the same Park & Ride I’ve written about before where I’ve seen folks relieve themselves around the station or against a lightpost due to lack of basic amenties.

I then boarded the Skagit Transit 208 south to Skagit Station.  A nice half hour ride and happy to pay the $2 for an all-day in-county pass to Skagit Transit, which is saving me a buck for the day.

Especially as thanks to Island Transit pinching pennies Island Transit no longer has 411W stop at Skagit Station but now March’s Point Park & Ride.  This now means a $1 fare or using your $2 all-day in-county Skagit Transit pass from Skagit Station on a small bus with hard seats to March’s Point.  A short wait later, Island Transit’s 411W arrived.  On board, surprisingly & shockingly for a fare-free transit agency in fiscal dire straights was this ad:

Washington State Ridesharing Organization Ad for Trip to Alaska

Yes, Island Transit is deferring its insurance payments but has these ads all over their buses.  Profligate spending if ever… especially as dues to Washington State Ridesharing Organization are somehow a higher priority than the state’s transit insurance pool.  Paging Mayor Studley… paging Mayor Studley…

At least I had a pleasant ride with another avgeek who was my driver over to Oak Harbor in a comfortable seat.  Once in Oak Harbor I had about 20 minutes to cross the street, use the public restroom and then cross back to board the Route 1 bus.  After politely informing the driver I was writing for STB about Island Transit, I had a driver helpfully pull me off at the closest bus stop for Island Transit.  Through no fault of the driver, the bus stop was a gravel lot with no sidewalk a 10 minute, 0.5 mile walk from The Transit’s HQ.  Not exactly conducive to having riders hold Island Transit to account… in fact I was the only transit rider to attend the SAO Exit Conference.

Part 2 – Island Transit HQ to the Clinton Ferry Dock

Island Transit HQ Sign

As a transit user who genuinely wants Island Transit to succeed and be accountable; I was not too happy with the fact Island Transit spent money on artsy fartsy benches, a rarely used exercise room & conference room, unused golf carts and refrigerators, gazebos and snow removal equipment, a time-out room and BBQ equipment.  Nor am I happy at all the CPA for Island Transit couldn’t take a few basic questions for an upcoming post on Island Transit right now sitting on my editor’s desk…

Even worse was sitting through the Island Transit Board’s mini-meeting I took a black & white still of and also put on video – where the Island Transit Board could not make basic decisions on allowing public comment and recruiting for a permanent replacement for an Executive Director.  Having stood though that as the only transit user I agree with Oak Harbor Mayor Dudley the Island Transit Board need to start multitasking or needs replacement.

I’ve written up all about the SAO Exit Conference so will spare you another 1,500+ word commentary.  Enjoy this picture though.

After standing and video’ing all that accountability, I had a ride from a new friend to the nearest Island Transit southbound bus stop lacking a bench or shelter.  I boarded Island Transit’s Route 1 again from that stop and Route 1 was running behind schedule.  At least the seats were comfy… and I did get to my final destination.  Namely here:

Island Transit Route 1 at the Clinton Ferry Terminal

Part 3 – MV Tokitae to Future of Flight

MV Tokitae

As Island Transit Route 1 was running late, I did not get to ride the MV Kitsap but instead as you can see the MV Tokitae.  Brand new ferry, desperately needed part of renewing the state ferry system fleet.  I was hoping for a chance to get some external photos of this beaut before taking interior pictures, but oh well.

The MV Tokitae is kept very clean, has a closed sun deck due to US Coast Guard crew requirements versus budgetary constraints but open small decks over the car deck, has dignified advertising, a dining area, a nice cafe, the personnel were professional.  I then got to go outside and enjoy seeing the Mukilteo lighthouse.  Once landing on Mukilteo, I had an about 3 minute walk to a Community Transit bus stop.

At this point, I began to truly appreciate urban transit.  So far this day I’ve had to deal with rural transit where runs are every hour.  At Community Transit, service with Community Transit Route 113 is every half hour.  So instead of standing in the middle of nowhere waiting for a bus, the wait’s only a few minutes to get onto Route 113.  Although this bus’s interior is dated, I was in no position to complain for a short ride.

With a GoPro taking stop motion on my head, the time soon arrived to accomplish the second big video sortie of the day.  Namely a stop-motion of the hike up to Future of Flight.  I’ve made this YouTube to provoke some discussion so here you go:

I think now you know why I’m so pushy on getting a bus stop at Future of Flight.  It seems after talking to the City of Everett this will require Community Transit re-prioritization.  So will be covering the new Community Transit service.

Part 4 – The Ride Home

No pictures as I was frankly tired and shook up by tragic events a short distance away.  I had a friend drop me off at the SWIFT, then barely missed Skagit Transit 90X.  The jerk driver wouldn’t stop as he pulled out, I ran and yelled “WAIT, WAIT” so I got stranded for an hour at Everett Station.  Called the supervisor to complain, torqued off the driver couldn’t wait a damn 30 seconds.  Then I got on the next Skagit Transit 90X, then a 45 minute wait due to a route detour & Stilliguamish River bridge repair, then the Skagit Transit 300 and got home.  Again, I had important video to compile and upload.  Hard to have good transit connections when transit can’t stay on schedule – and the Stilliguamish River bridge work + a special detour is totally messing up connections.

Overall, this day trip loop is worth making if you have the time.  Due to Island Transit cutbacks a loop trip on Whidbey Island can only be done Monday-Friday which seems indefinite until Saturday service returns.  Also need to make sure you can miss a mass transit connection or two.

Continue reading “North by Northwest 28: Looping from Skagit to Whidbey to Snohomish to Skagit”

North by Northwest 27: State Auditor’s Office vs. Island Transit

2014-10-24 Washington State Auditor’s Office Exit Conference With Island Transit

2014-10-24 Washington State Auditor’s Office Exit Conference With Island Transit

Island Transit yesterday had an exit conference with the Washington State Auditor’s Office (hereafter SAO) with video taken and the release of the severance agreement with former Exec Director Martha Rose.  Most exit conferences are staid affairs, such as the one with the City of Oak Harbor where SAO employees explain any issues with collaboration between auditor & auditee.  In the case of Island Transit; there were audible groans, arrogant grilling and even attempted gifts in what for most state & local governments is a quiet act (1) of meeting with SAO employees to ensure fiscal responsibility.

Midday through 24 October, members of the Island Transit Press Gallery (e.g., Whidbey News-Times) scooped us (2) with the galling news that former Exec Director Martha Rose thanks to the personal feelings of Island Transit Board Chair Bob Clay towards her Island Transit will now pay over $100,000 to this individual.  Last night, a Seattle Transit Blog Page Two writer interviewed Island Transit Board Member & Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley who said for the record he had sought Martha Rose’s resignation letter (3) since her resignation and that the Island Transit Board never approved former Island Transit Exec Director Martha Rose’s “separation agreement” signed back on 20 October 2014.  The document was not supposed to be released until she signed it and as such, was not released to the public until 24 October 2014.

That same 24 October 2014, the SAO Exit Conference with Island Transit unfolded.  For the first time the general public also learned that former Exec Director Martha Rose was getting special, improper and possibly unconstitutional at a state level treatment from the Island Transit Board.  In SAO documentation publicly released at that meeting, the SAO notes with my emphasis:

The Transit’s personnel policy requires the salary schedule for all Transit employees be approved by the Board of Directors. We found no evidence of the Board approving the salary schedule. The only evidence of salary approval is in the budgeting process in departmental lump sum amounts.
The contract between the Transit and the former Executive Director requires the Board to review annually the Executive Director’s performance, contract and salary. However, this annual review did not occur. The last documented review was conducted in 1996. The former Executive Director received salary increases approximately every two years without specific Board approval.
We identified a lack of oversight of the former Executive Director’s leave usage. The Executive Director was self-approving and self-reporting any leave used to the Payroll Specialist. The former Executive Director’s calendar identified the following:
o Attendance at a conference for 16 days in April 2013 when flight records indicate the Director was only in the same city as the conference for four days.
o Vacation for four weeks that spanned July and August of 2013
o Attendance at a conference for 19 days in September 2013 when flight records indicate the Director was only in the same city as the conference for five days.
o Vacation for three weeks that spanned June and July of 2014
Despite the above items noted on the former Executive Director’s calendar, we identified only six days of leave were deducted from the former Executive Director’s leave balances from August 2012 to September 2014.

That same document also notes on page 1 of their Exit Conference agenda:

Preliminary audit results and recommendations were shared in detail with Transit management and personnel as they were developed during the audit

So there was quite a bit of shock and groaning when Island Transit Emergency Executive Director Bob Clay – with no board approval – entered into a “separation agreement” signed back on 20 October 2014 with former Island Transit Executive Director Martha Rose.  Within that document is this stipulation:

Payment of Vacation Time. The Parties acknowledge and agree that Rose has accrued unused paid time off with Island Transit, the value of which totals eighty-eight thousand one hundred ninety dollars and forty cents ($88,190.40), subject to lawful deductions. Rose acknowledges and agrees that this unused paid time off that Rose has accrued with Island Transit will be paid in monthly installments to Rose of the lesser of either eleven thousand dollars ($11,000) per month or the remaining amount due to Rose for payment in full of her accrued unused paid time off. Such monthly installments will begin on February 15, 2015 and will continue until her accrued unused paid time off is paid in full, and such payments will include lawful deductions.”

As Island Transit Board Member Scott Dudley noted in an interview, “If we were following up the vacation and leave status, we ended up paying for almost nine months of vacation.”  As such, there are cogent, logical calls for a criminal investigation into who knew what when in regards to former Island Transit Exec Director Martha Rose’s “separation agreement”.  Especially as Martha Rose told the Whidbey News-Times when she left she was only staying on after Island Transit’s new facility was complete due to the Island Transit fiscal crisis.  But perhaps these developments should be no surprise – more after the jump.

Continue reading “North by Northwest 27: State Auditor’s Office vs. Island Transit”

North by Northwest 26: A Tale of Two Island Transit Board Members


Indeed, this is a tale of two Island Transit Board Members in Jim Campbell and Bob Clay.  One of whom graciously recursed himself from the Island Transit Board, the other decided to attack the media.

First, Oak Harbor Councilmember Jim Campbell who decided to recurse himself from the Island Transit Board so Mayor Scott Dudley could be the permanent representative until 31 December with great class and dignity as per the below video:

I clipped away from the video the many minutes of minutiae parliamentary i-dotting and t-crossing to ensure a legal & professional change of representation maneuver.  You can watch these maneuvers on the City of Oak Harbor website starting about a minute inA formal letter by the City on the 22nd is issued.

Then there’s Island Transit Boardmember & Emergency Director Bob Clay representing the Town of Coupeville attacking the media.  When asked to provide context to the below rant, he declined:

Mr. Clay’s recent attack on the media without spelling out what the “misconceptions of what really is going on” are frankly is unhelpful.  It’s unhelpful for Island Transit employees, watchdogs (of which he’s supposed to be one) and the media.  Unhelpful from a  media perspective as it creates the presumption Mr. Clay has contempt for his fellow watchdogs.  Unhelpful as clearly when Island Transit went into the red for several days in September, there is a serious structural deficit in Island Transit.

As certainly many are aware, at 0900 Hours (9 AM) Friday at Island Transit HQ, Island Transit will have a special meeting on an executive director and the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) will be giving an exit conference into their findings into Island Transit – the updated agenda is on Scribd.  A senior SAO official in the Bellingham branch kindly informed your correspondent there is no scheduled public comment, once the first business item is addressed the board will get a formal presentation (probably no PowerPoint slides though) of their findings, discussion will depend on questions from the board and there will be no public comment period as per the agenda on Scribd which as per RCW 42.30.080 means only the items on the agenda are actionable.  It is also worth noting one Island Transit Board Member has publicly said there will be State Auditor’s Office findings into Island Transit for financial health and not having records available for starters.  So please make a hole for me as I will need a seat, then get on Island Transit Route 1 to the Clinton Ferry Dock to the Future of Flight (a potential write-up in of itself, eh?).

Continue reading “North by Northwest 26: A Tale of Two Island Transit Board Members”

North by Northwest 22: Transparent SAO Exit Meeting With Island Transit

Polaroid 669 of "Island Transit Not In Service"

Politicians often claim secrecy is necessary for good governance or national security.  Often they have confused their own interests with what is in the public interest. Heather Brooke

First, truly sorry no Paine Field update until next week.  My interview subject has me in a holding pattern due to a family emergency – but when you find out who she is, you will be impressed as the campaign for ST3 has now truly begun.  Frankly I’m happy for the success Sound Transit has had – and the recent explosive growth in Link ridership is a beacon to the rest of Washington State.

Second, I’ve had to tragically decide due to today’s Whidbey Newsgroup report about the situation w/ Island Transit and Island County watchdog requests the State Auditor’s Office Exit Conference be open for public review a petition to make this so is necessary.  The full text is below the jump, but basically the petition does “request all Island Transit Board Members meet with the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) for the SAO exit conference” and reminds Island Transit of its responsibility to the 38 other counties of this great state.

What’s a SAO exit conference?  As the State Auditor’s Office explains to auditees, “This meeting happens roughly two weeks following our final day of fieldwork.  During this meeting, we share our preliminary conclusions, listen to your responses, and answer questions. We will also discuss when we expect to issue our reports and when we expect to return for our next audit.”  Arguably with all the leaks like “findings for “financial health” and “misappropriation of federal funds” … likelyplus snapshot guesstimates of what is truly occurring in regards to Island Transit, having the SAO Exit Conference open for public inspection for the Island Transit Board can respond and ask questions would help the healing process.

It is only right Island County residents lead the battle for their transit system.  But we in the 38 other counties can demand accountability for… money that could have stopped some of the threats to King County Metro instead of have Martha Rose fritter it on her opulent headquarters complete with the “Rose Room” and also abuse of company cars.  Money that could have had an early bird rapid connection from the Sedro-Woolley Park & Ride to the Chuckanut Park & Ride to connect to earlier southbound Skagit Transit 90X routes than the last one at 7:15 AM as Skagit Transit 300 currently does.  Money that could give Paine Field better transit service.  Money that… well, fill in the blank.

The State Auditor’s Office can only find matters of noncompliance, not force compliance.  That’s our job as taxpaying citizens.

The State Auditor’s Office cannot function unless there’s public interest and pressure on politicians to force accountability.  That’s our Air Tasking Order as taxpaying citizens.

Ultimately, the State Auditor’s Office must be able to present its findings unfiltered in an exit conference that cannot be leaked, spun or ignored.  Freedoms of the press and petition for redress of grievances is useless without transparency advocacy.  Already efforts are underway to deny even Island Transit Boardmembers access to the State Auditor’s Office work processes.

Please consider going to the petition to make the State Auditor’s Office Exit Conference open to the public with all five Island Transit board members in attendance: because I’m back only to help Island County residents right their own ship.

Continue reading “North by Northwest 22: Transparent SAO Exit Meeting With Island Transit”

North by Northwest 21: Transit Developments Up Here…

View post on

(Figured I’d Photoshop a little RQ-21 Blackjack drone photo of mine since Island Politics is reading us and TVW’s doing a special on drones tonight at 7:30 PM.   Named the drone Sandy after a dear friend.)

Avgeek photography fun aside, figured I’d post some hyperlinks from recent days with comments below:

  • Island Politics: Good Advice for Island Transit’s Recovery from Seatlle
    (Much appreciate.  Sometimes comment threads actually work out for the best, and happy to help.)
  • Stanwood Camano News Editorial: Time to get taxpayers back on board
    (An editorial ignorant of quite a few realities.  Not the least of which was Martha Rose’s loss of confidence from so many of Island County’s leaders.  Also calling for a restoration of 412C – the Camano to Everett Connector out of Island Transit internal funds, and re-hire all 24 Island Transit employees and “reinstate the bus routes that were discontinued on Whidbey Island as soon as fiscally responsible” doesn’t sound like setting priorities within revenue to save Island Transit.  Please remember Island Transit is using its full sales tax authority and is in a structural deficit with a route restructure underway.  Also “were discontinued” is in the passive voice.)
  • Whidbey News-Times Editorial: Now that Rose is gone, it’s time to focus on change | In Our Opinion
    (Agree: “The first step should be to remove the sign that says “Rose Room” on the conference room door at the IT’s new facility south of Coupeville. … While it may only be a symbolic gesture, getting rid of that symbol of arrogance would be a welcome sign that change is afoot. The next step should be to educate the public about the importance of maintaining public transportation on Whidbey Island.” )
  • Community Transit Sprouts New Services this week
    (Community Transit’s adding 7,500 hours of new bus service, while efficiency changes redistribute 6,000 additional service hours.  Details at the link)

Re comments: The Seattle Transit Blog tech team is working on getting me un-spammed so yours truly can comment.  I do have a backup plan if by 2000 Hours (10 PM) they can’t get it fixed to get back to you.  Your comments have helped shape dialogue, inspired blog posts up in Oak Harbur (typo intentional) and help keep the debate honest.    Please share our links and work here at STB with whomever you’d like with a cite.

North by Northwest 20: Regarding “Snapshots” of Island Transit’s Finances

Island Transit 411C Camano

“It is scrutiny by the general public that keeps the powerful honest. “

Heather Brooke

After reading a late Friday report Island Transit may be nearing bankruptcy from I reached out to Island Transit Emergency Executive Director Bob Clay.  In a quick telephone interview today, Mr. Clay explained that the report was based on a financial snapshot of a transit agency coming out of fiscal troubles with little to no reserves.  Several days after the snapshot was taken, much sales tax revenue was deposited into Island Transit from the Island County Treasurer keeping the agency from going into the red.

That said, after reviewing the treasurer’s Treasurers Reconciliation/Cash Balance sheet one could conclude that Island Transit remains in a structural deficit.  To use the Financial Times definition of structural deficit, “A budget deficit that results from a fundamental imbalance in government receipts and expenditures, as opposed to one based on one-off or short-term factors. A government budget deficit occurs when a government spends more than it receives in tax revenue, while a structural deficit is when a budget deficit persists for some time.”  There’s a reason why Island Transit spent its reserves to nil.

It is my understanding that Island Transit was working on a route restructure as of the past few months to help address the structural deficit helped expose.  Also a contact in the State Auditor’s Office believes the audit on Island Transit will be done this week for release probably next week.  So Island Transit may not be bankrupt… yet.

Ultimately thanks to the fiscal crisis and Island Transit’s structural deficit Bob Clay has a thankless job, as does Scott Dudley who brought the heat to remove a failed CEO of Island Transit when other elected politicians weren’t up to the job.  It’s one thing to hide behind a website and sling arrows – it’s another to be a man in the arena.

So please keep Island Transit in your thoughts and prayers right now.  Thanks guys.

Finally, on a personal note, I am happy we had the debate we had about electing transit board members.  Problem is, I have personal experience with a Tea Partier elected on a transit board in Kelly Emerson – and as such “Mr. Avgeekjoe from Skagit County” that Republican, er, guy on the STB comment threads since 2011 endorses Kelly Emerson’s Democrat opponent Dolores Gilmore solely due to Kelly Emerson’s being on the Island Transit Board last year without taking effective action to save Island Transit.  Frankly if you are on a nonprofit board and don’t speak up that your nonprofit – namely Island Transit – is burning through reserves while building an opulent headquarters; you don’t deserve further elected office.

My main concern in advocating for elected transit boards (or at least appointed members who cannot hold elected office) is doing our utmost to ensure actual, genuine transit users sit on these boards so we – and not some cushy bureaucrat or career politician who may or likely does not have an ORCA card in their wallet – lead the debate on transit.  We need transit advocates on these boards – not politicians shuttling around a multitude of issues and hope they somehow get transit right.  Just remember when we transit users keep quiet or are kept out of the room by career politicians – most of whom don’t use mass transit – what happens… we get things done to our transit service.  Our goal should be to improve service quality and efficiency democratically.  Period.

Oh and… expect a Paine Field transit update this week.  Cheers.