100,000 Miles: The Journey of one Island Transit bus rider

Martin grew up in England and used the public bus as a kid. “I walked a half mile to get to the bus and another quarter mile up a cliff to get to school.”

It was good training for adulthood as he hasn’t had many jobs where he’s had to drive to work. He’s almost always walked, biked, or taken the bus. So when he moved to Whidbey Island in 2005 and started his new job in Coupeville, he began taking the bus almost immediately. Now he has a 10-minute walk between his home and the bus stop and sometimes gets off the bus a mile early to get some exercise before going into the office.

When asked why he rides the bus, he points out the obvious. “The buses are clean, safe, and free! The drivers are friendly and helpful. In all the years I’ve used this fare-free bus, I’ve saved enough to buy a car.” He jokes that if they had a frequent rider program for those who’ve logged over 100,000 miles on the bus, “I’d be in the Platinum club with the attendant serving champagne and crepes.”

Mike Newman is his favorite driver and he also remembers Ottis and Dan, both retired. All the drivers have their individual style. In the 15 years he’s been taking Island Transit, he’s only been missed twice. “But if you phone up, they come and get you! I’d never take advantage of that, I don’t mind waiting for the next bus. There was a day when I really needed to be home to look after my son, so I accepted a ride and it was great.”

He uses the RouteShout app regularly. “RouteShout is golden!” As soon as he leaves his house he pulls out his phone and RouteShout shows him where his bus is in real time so he knows how long he’s got to get to his stop. Even if he doesn’t quite make it, he can flag down the bus. A small torch, I mean flashlight, or reflective vest helps the driver see him from a distance. Island Transit buses will stop anywhere along their route. If they’re on the state highway the bus must pull completely out of the traffic lane, so you have to be at a wide pull-out spot or at an intersection with a side road.

“My boys used to love to ride the bus with me when they were younger. For them it was like coming onboard the Starship Enterprise.” He’s encouraged other people to use the bus.” I’m a walking billboard for Island Transit. When I see people at the bus stop studying the schedule, I help them figure it out. Especially tourists! Leave the car behind. You don’t need a car on Whidbey Island.”

Martin doesn’t hesitate to ride during the pandemic. “Everyone wears masks, there’s hand sanitizer on each bus and there’s plenty of room for social distancing.” In addition, Island Transit recently installed new air filtration systems on each bus. His 45-minute commute is quieter now with not as many people onboard, so he reads while he rides. “I’ve read a library full of books.”

Martin coached football, I mean soccer. He used to ride with some high school teachers and staff. They’d sit in the back and talk and laugh. “You meet a lot of interesting people on the bus; commuters, tourists, neighbors. You hear some interesting life stories. You find out what you have in common. It’s a microcosm of US society. Every day is different. It’s what makes the world go round.”

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