Island Transit is now offering more service than it did at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to communications consultant Rena Shawver.
Service has returned to much of Island County, though some routes were modified or consolidated to facilitate social distancing guidelines.
“The Modified Service Plan takes our new reality of social distancing into account to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Executive Director Todd Morrow in a press release. “Out of care and concern for our passengers and operators, we cannot allow as many people on the buses. That means we need more vehicles and drivers to carry the same number of passengers on many routes, which increases operating costs for those routes.”
In addition to extending hours of operations on many of the current routes, Island Transit combined routes 10, 12, and 22 to create route 14. The new route loops from Harbor Station in Oak Harbor to Ault Field.
The route includes stops at Walmart, Saar’s market, Oak Harbor High School, Midway Boulevard, the Oak Harbor Senior Center and Oak Harbor Library.
Route 57 will not be restored but much of the area is covered by Route 60, according to the Island Transit press release. Service to Lone Lake and Goss Lake are canceled.
Passengers are required to wear masks, and certain seats on the buses have been blocked off to maintain social distancing. As a result the buses have significantly reduced ridership. The larger two-door buses have been limited to 11 riders, the one-door buses have been limited to eight riders, and the smaller paratransit buses have been limited to two riders.
Despite restricted seating, Island Transit saw an 83 percent increase in ridership during the month of July compared to the daily average in June, according to Shawver.
Drivers are also wearing masks and have a large Plexiglas shield separating them from the passengers.
Despite the precautions some drivers are still concerned about contracting the coronavirus.
“I consider buses a rolling Petri dish, but we’re an essential service,” said bus driver Traynor Hunt.
“Management at Island Transit is very on top of it, as far as doing the best to keep us safe,” he added.
Hunt said the bus drivers wipe down frequently touched spaces on buses whenever possible and the sanitization team does an excellent job of disinfecting the buses with electrostatic sprayers.
Hunt said the bus also carries extra masks to give to passengers who may not have one to wear.
“Most riders are pretty good about it,” he said. “I’ve never had one totally refuse to wear a mask.”
Mask-wearing passenger James Lake, who was catching a ride on the Route 1 bus to Coupeville, said he was not concerned about catching COVID-19.
On Aug. 7, The Island transit Board of Directors will hold a public hearing to receive input on the 2020-25 Transit Development Plan. The plan will determine future routes, operating changes and capital improvement projects.