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Island Transit to add bus route, connector service

Brian Martin of Coupeville talks with Roy Daniel at a public meeting about changes to Island Transit bus routes. Island Transit plans to add a new south Whidbey route and connect with buses in neighboring counties to make a connection to Mount Vernon multi-modal station. - Stephen Mercer
Brian Martin of Coupeville talks with Roy Daniel at a public meeting about changes to Island Transit bus routes. Island Transit plans to add a new south Whidbey route and connect with buses in neighboring counties to make a connection to Mount Vernon multi-modal station.
— image credit: Stephen Mercer

Island Transit officials have plans to add another route, including paratransit service, on South Whidbey.

Tentatively scheduled for early September, the new service will run from Honeymoon Bay in Freeland along East Harbor Road and Saratoga Road into Langley.

Labeled Route 5, the service will pick up passengers in Bells Beach, Saratoga Beach, Honeymoon Bay and other communities between Langley and Freeland.

Route 5 is something Island Transit officials have planned for years.

“That has been high on the list for a long time,” said Martha Rose, director of Island Transit.

It became possible through state grant funding which will pay for the additional drivers and the route’s other expenses, she said.

Transit officials said frequent phone calls and letters in support of the route helped make it a priority.

The impact of public input was not lost on Honeymoon Bay residents.

Although listed as a priority for the future, Rose said petitions from Honeymoon Bay residents led to the Freeland community’s inclusion on the route.

Also in the works, another service expansion called the “Tri-County connector.”

Through arrangements with Skagit and Whatcom counties’ public transportation agencies, the Tri-County Connector provides free Island Transit bus service between the Clinton Ferry Terminal and the multi-modal facility in Mount Vernon. From there, a passenger can catch a bus into Bellingham, ride the train into Everett or chose other transportation options.

The Tri-County Connector and Route 5 should begin service Sept. 6. Proposed hours are from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. All Island Transit bus rides will remain free.

Funding for the new south Whidbey route, additional routes on Camano and Whidbey islands and the Tri-County route all came from a $2 million grant provided by the state Department of Transportation.

Whatcom, Skagit and Island counties transit systems each received a portion of the money.

Because Island Transit drivers must travel the farthest, however, it received the most funds, Rose said.

Rose said Island Transit received $1.2 million from the grant. The state also provided a two-year, $273,000 grant to help paratransit services.

Paul Wolcott of Bells Beach said he supports the new route, although he did request one change.

Roy Daniel, an Island Transit operations supervisor, said Wolcott wanted an earlier arrival times for his daily commute to work.

Rose said that Island Transit may offer an earlier bus service based on input from Wolcott and other local residents.

The Tri-County Connector also drew accolades from Whidbey Island residents.

“I like the idea that we are now making links to other communities to get off the island,” said Brian Martin of Coupeville. “If someone, such as a college student, can make plans around the bus schedule, it is in their best interest to use it.”

Rising gas prices make the free bus service a good alternative, Martin said.

The only downside are riders possibly missing the last bus in Mount Vernon or elsewhere and becoming stuck, he said.

Ken Fisk of Freeland said he’s pleased the new route offers a way to reach the Mount Vernon train station.

Fisk, a frequent train traveler, said he now uses the Everett train station but would prefer taking a different route.

About 1 million people used Island Transit buses, van pools and other services last year. A voter approved sales tax pays for Island Transit’s operations.

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