Whidbey gets own shuttle service

The face of traveling between Whidbey Island and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport changed this week.

On Thursday, the Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle took its first customers to the airport from Whidbey Island — including residents from the south end. Mike Lauver, co-owner of the Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle, was in high spirits after only being in business for a little over seven hours.

“The reception has been very enthusiastic,” he said.

According to Lauver, he and co-owner John Solin applied to start the shuttle service through the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission over eight months ago.

After proving to the commission that there was a great need on South Whidbey to provide service to the SeaTac airport, Lauver said the transportation certificate was granted.

In doing so, Lauver said they had to attest that Bellair Charters and Shuttle Express were not meeting all of Island County’s customer needs to the commission. The Bellair Charters — who operates a shuttle route from Oak Harbor to SeaTac via Mount Vernon — was worried the Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle would intrude on their clientele, he said.

“They were afraid we were going to take their business,” Lauver said.

According to Lauver, the Bellair Charters does not have a license to pick up South Whidbey residents. He said they had a license for South Whidbey almost 10 years ago, but since then had let it lapse. Noticing the lack of service, Lauver and Solin recognized there was no easy way to get to the airport. After just one day of business, Lauver said he has seen strong support because of the lack of service in the past.

“I’d say we’re going to do pretty well,” he said.

Currently the Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle has two Mercedes/Dodge Sprinters. Lauver and Solin said they wanted the European-designed vans because they are compact, but yet roomy enough inside to give six feet of headroom to stand up.

“It took us quite a while to locate them for us,” Lauver said.

Each van can carry nine passengers, he said, and has first-on/first-off priority boarding, like vanpools, to ensure on-time arrivals and departures.

What makes the Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle such a good idea, Lauver said, is the short time it takes to get back and forth to the airport, it makes no additional stops off their regular schedule and includes ferry fare in the price. The shuttle advertises it will get passengers from South Whidbey to SeaTac in one hour and 30 minutes.

The round-trip fare from South Whidbey is $60 on the Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle. A round trip fare from Mukilteo on Shuttle Express is $64, plus the cost of a passenger ferry ticket. A round-trip ticket on Bellair Charters from Oak Harbor is also $60, Lauver pointed out, but takes a much greater amount of travel time because it goes through Mount Vernon.

Barbara MacCallum, a passenger on the shuttle’s second day of service, was looking forward this week to starting her trip to Alaska on the right foot.

No longer will she have to drag her luggage around on the ferry, and stand in the cold waiting for the Shuttle Express to pick her up at the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal.

“That’s horrible,” MacCallum said about past experiences.

MacCallum, who is the owner of Bells Beach Bed and Breakfast, said the shuttle could be a boost to local businesses — including her own. It will help get South Whidbey residents to the airport, but also by bringing in tourists and guests as well. The lower price was an added incentive, she said.

“I thought the price was wonderful,” she said.

Loretta Martin, the Langley South Whidbey Chamber of Commerce executive director, said she feels the shuttle service will enhance the tourism experience.

“This will be much more convenient for the inns,” Martin said.

A big draw according to Martin, could be to Europeans who aren’t used to the style of Puget Sound transportation systems.

“It’s very complicated to Europeans,” Martin said of her past experiences of explaining shuttles, ferries and buses to potential tourists.

Lauver explained the shuttle service will make four round-trips daily, beginning with two stops in Oak Harbor. It will continue south with a stop in Coupeville, Greenbank, Freeland, Bayview and Clinton. In Freeland the shuttle will stop at the Freeland Shell, in Bayview at the Bayview Exxon and in Clinton at Naomi’s Self Serve Exxon.

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