Bus routes on Whidbey and Camano Islands will change at the beginning of July.
On Friday, Island Transit’s board of directors approved a service improvement plan months in the making that is meant to create efficiencies and expand service system-wide. The return of Saturday service remains a goal, but the time frame hasn’t been decided.
Mike Nortier, director of Island Transit, said the transit officials began with a service review last year and took on the complex task of analyzing all of the routes. They went to the public last fall and asked for input about the routes and possible changes people would like to see.
Transit staff came up with a proposed plan and asked for public input on it earlier this year. The proposal was finalized and approved by the board.
The result, Nortier said, is an increase in areas reached by bus service and an increase in the frequency of some routes. The changes go into effect July 1.
Route 10 in Oak Harbor, for example, will begin earlier and end later, as well as expand slightly. Nortier said the changes were made as a result of requests from riders who need to be at Skagit Valley College or the library — a popular stop — at times outside the current schedule.
Route 3, which covers eastern Oak Harbor up to Sleeper Road, will become a loop and will expand to Frostad Road, which hadn’t been previously served. It also picks up some stops to allow other routes to operate more efficiently.
Nortier said the new routes should provide better connectivity to the ferries on South Whidbey and Coupeville. The number of connections to the Coupeville ferry, he said, will increase from five to 17.
Nortier said Island Transit will explain the specifics of the changes to the public in June, when the new schedules are released. Oak Harbor Councilman Rick Almberg, chairman of the Island Transit board, said the changes should be easy to understand.
“I think people will find the service more convenient,” he said. “The changes make a lot of sense.”
The new schedule adds about eight to 10 hours of bus service, which Nortier said will cost Island Transit an extra $130,000 a year. He said the amount is a small percentage of the overall budget and Island Transit has the budget capacity to cover the cost.
The absence of Saturday service is the only remaining evidence of the 2014 financial debacle that resulted in system-wide route cuts and layoffs; the former director was forced out.
The former Island Transit board took out $2.3 million in loans to cover the deficit. Nortier said the agency recently paid off the last of the loans with a $550,000 payment, which was made a year ahead of schedule.
Both Nortier and Almberg said the return of Saturday service is a worthwhile goal.
Now that the service improvement plan is done, it’s time to take a close look at the options for Saturdays, Nortier said. He hopes to create a forecast in the next couple of months for when it can return.