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 62: Take the 20th Off If You Can… and Come to Anacortes

Vigor Sea Trials M/V Samish

WSDOT Flickr Feed: Vigor Sea Trials M/V Samish

No seriously.  If you can get the 20th off, you should.  I’m only going to advertise this event once but wanted to give maximum notice so transit geeks can file to get the day off.  Granted I wish WSDOT had the M/V Samish open house and Washington Policy Center/WPC had their upcoming pundit fest on Saturday the 23rd*, but oh well.

On May 20th, it’s going to be a great day to be a transit geek in Anacortes.  One thing I should note from the get-go is that Skagit Transit Route 410 – which has connections in 413 to Burlington & 40X to Mount Vernon – will take you right up to the open house and is a short walk away from the WPC event.   Below are many details of the M/V Samish open house to check out the new ferry and get to see the wheelhouse and hopefully more normally off limits to passengers for logical reasons.

Vigor Sea Trials M/V Samish

M/V Samish Christening and Open House
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Anacortes Ferry Terminal

2100 Ferry Terminal Road Anacortes, WA 98221

Open House hours are from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Stop by any time throughout the day to explore your new ferry and take part in the festivities

Complimentary refreshments served

 Activities for kids

Christening celebration at 1:30 p.m.

Remarks from dignitaries

Tribal ceremony with the Samish Indian Nation

 Vessel christening by First Lady Trudi Inslee

This event is free of charge, open to the public and is ADA accessible.

Getting to the event

The event will be held aboard the M/V Samish at the Anacortes ferry terminal. Visitors coming from the mainland may drive and park in the upper lot of the Anacortes terminal. Visitors coming from the islands are encouraged to walk-on rather than bringing a vehicle. Passengers arriving via ferry will be issued tickets for free walk-on return passage, valid for same day travel.

Parking

Parking in the Anacortes terminal upper parking lot is free for this event. As you approach the ferry terminal, stay to the left to avoid the line for the tollbooths and follow the signs for event parking. Shuttle service will run continuously between the upper parking lot and the terminal building from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Need more info?

If you have a question about the Samish Christening and Open House or would like more information, please contact Event Coordinator Rachel Waitt at rachel.waitt-AT-wsdot-DOT-wa-DOT-gov or (206) 515-3944.

Because I’m a nice person, I decided to convert Rachel’s e-mail to anti-spam.  But based on photos of the MV Tokitae open house including inside the wheelhouse, it’s well worth the trip to Anacortes.

Also later that day between 5 PM & 7 PM, Washington Policy Center/WPC is having a free reception with all their pundits at the San Juan Airlines terminal at the Anacortes Airport – a 15 minute hike from Hwy 20 & Anacopper Rd.  All obviously includes WPC’s Transportation Center Director Bob Pishue so if you want to ask Bob a few questions in person about transit because you – like me – will be a mile or so away checking out a new ferry, you may.  Just please be polite with Bob.

Finally, Anacortes is relatively transit-friendly.  For a mere $2 dollars for an all day pass, you can use as much Skagit Transit/SKAT as you need to within Skagit County for the same day you buy the pass.  On the hour during this open house is a quick ride between the Anacortes Ferry Terminal and the downtown area where there’s fast food and seafood restaurants plus some great parks.  Just something to keep in mind.  Please fire off comments if you want some tips where to photograph or eat in Anacortes or how to get to/from Anacortes.  I’m certainly going to avail me of some of the trails.

Maybe we’ll all have an impromptu meet up at the WPC event at 1630 before I bow out at 1730 to head home… or we could meet-up on the MV Samish before the event ends at 4 & I depart to the airport.   Thoughts?

Photo credits: WSDOT Flickr Feed

—FOOTNOTE—

*The 16th would be problematic to say the least for avgeeks due to Heritage Flight Museum & Paine Field Aviation Day – both of which seemingly require either long walks or hiring a taxicab from the nearest bus stop.  But I digress..

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 info-at-islandtransit.org 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 barbara.bailey-AT-leg.wa.gov and shoot off a quick e-mail please.

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”