Saturday service is returning to Island Transit early next year.
This week, the transit board adopted a budget for next year that includes Saturday bus service, which was cut during a financial crisis in 2014. Transit officials budgeted for an 8 percent increase in operating expenses, most of which is due to the resumption of the service.
Operating expenses are budgeted at $12.2 million for 2018.
Island Transit Executive Director Mike Nortier said the additional four drivers — also called operators — have been in training in anticipation of Saturday service returning. If everything goes well, it can begin as early as the end of January, he said.
At the same time, the agency is building reserves by setting aside money, Nortier said. That includes $400,000 for bus purchases, $98,000 for van purchases, $73,000 for support vehicles and $900,000 for facilities.
“The economy has been pretty good for us in the last couple of years,” he said.
The agency is partly funded by 0.09 sales tax. Sales tax has been strong in recent years because of large projects, such as the Oak Harbor sewage treatment plant. In budgeting, officials took into account the fact that revenues may not be as strong in the future, Nortier said.
Under a 1988 resolution, the board was obligated to discuss the fare policy during the budget process. Island Transit had been fare-free until the first fare boxes were installed on a Camano Island route last year.
Nortier had crunched the numbers using a $1 fare and concluded that it would raise between $180,000 and $200,000 a year; at the same time, the agency would lose about 30 percent of its ridership for the first three to five years.
The board told Nortier they want more information before proceeding down that path. Nortier said the agency will do a lot of outreach and input gathering before any decisions are made.
Transit employees were happy to hear the news about Saturday service.
“I’m happy for the riders,” said Island Transit bus driver Teresa “T” Davis. “I think a lot of people that don’t have vehicles will appreciate it.”
Island Transit Operations Manager Shawn Harris said Saturdays have been on the minds of riders ever since the service stopped in 2014.
“That’s the No.1 question we get. ‘When are we going to bring back Saturday service?’ ” he said.