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Budget limits Island Transit purchases and expansion

There will be a bunch of new vanpool vans on the road in 2004 bearing the Island Transit logo, and possibly a new bus facility on Camano Island and an updated transit operations center in Coupeville.

But outside of that and a possible $3.3 million increase in revenue from the state, Island County’s free transit system will operate next year much as it has in 2003.

Expecting to receive a new $1 million funding allocation from the state and up to $2 million in grant funds to upgrade its central bus facilities in Coupeville and on Whidbey Island, Island Transit is looking at bringing in about $7.1 million in revenue in 2004, up from the $5.7 projected to come in this year. Overall, the transit system’s preliminary budget — which will be presented for public review on Friday — will have $9.6 million available and earmarked to spend.

The new money in the budget, says Island Transit director Martha Rose, is a down payment on the future of the transit system.

“We’re trying to look 20 years out,” she said.

On the spending list for the coming year is the possible construction of an operations facility at the Island County Annex on Camano Island. Island Transit currently rents an office facility on that island. That property is expected to be sold sometime during the coming year.

In addition, Rose said the system needs to expand its current bus facility in Coupeville. To illustrate this need, she noted that the building has only one toilet for the 70 people who work at the building.

New vehicle purchases for 2004 include 12 eight-passenger vans. After layoffs at Boeing earlier this year, the demand for vanpools flagged at Island Transit, Rose said. But in recent months, the vans — for which users pay a fee for their use — are going back out on the road again, carrying island residents to jobs at companies that are not necessarily related to the aerospace industry.

“This is encouraging,” Rose said.

Because the vans are generally used to transport people off-island, they rack up a lot of miles and need to be replaced often, Rose said.

Island Transit’s fleet of more durable vehicles, its big buses, will remain largely unchanged this year. Rose noted that the system’s largest busses, which are 35 feet long, last up to a dozen years. The oldest of these buses in the Island Transit fleet date back to 1992.

Also on the expenditure list is a projected cost-of-living adjustment for Island Transit’s 75 employees. Rose expects this increase to be around 2 percent.

The 16-year-old transit system will continue to provide routes up and down the lengths of Whidbey and Camano islands, and will maintain its connection service to Skagit County’s SKAT transit system. There are six public transit connections daily between Island and Skagit counties.

Rose said Island Transit expects to carry about 940,000 riders on all its buses and van pools this year. The system’s buses are fare-free, as they have been since Island Transit was founded.

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