Equity drives service changes at Island Transit
— Created September 14, 2022 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
Island Transit is implementing the first of several services changes this month.
Beginning Monday, Sept. 26, Island Transit will introduce Route 9 West. This new route will provide service to a previously unserved area.
“This expanded service will provide crucial transportation for new and developing neighborhoods,” said Selene Muldowney-Stratton, marketing and communications officer for Island Transit. “The route will offer service to the Oak Harbor High School, the medical clinic on 8th Avenue, Barrington apartments and condos. [It] covers new development areas on Ft. Nugent, Swantown, and the new apartments near the Oak Harbor post office.
“With greater access to service in these neighborhoods, not only does it provide increased opportunities for members of the community but it also offers greater safety,” she said.
Another change taking effect on the 26th is the replacement of Route 14 by Routes 2 and 10. The routes will cover the same service area as Route 14, but officials say they will provide more coverage and more frequency, something needed as ridership increases coming out of the COVID pandemic.
“As the county has returned to less restrictive movement, we have seen an increase in ridership,” said Muldowney-Stratton. “During COVID we had a significant decrease in ridership, which was reflected across all transit agencies across the nation. Routes 2 and 10 address the increased ridership as well as providing greater convenience for riders.”
This month’s route updates are the first of several upcoming service changes set to be rolled out over the next year. All are based on the results of the “Island Transit’s Maximized” survey conducted recently and approved by Island Transit’s board of directors in April.
“Community members provided us with great insights into their needs and what they perceived other community members may also need,” Muldowney-Stratton said. “We also saw a growing awareness that essential workers needed more access to opportunities and part of that was providing more accessible public transportation choices.”
Over the course of the next year, Island Transit will be adding Sunday service, optimizing routes in Oak Harbor and on Camano Island, extending service hours and South Whidbey service, expanding connections for the Coupeville ferry and adding new seasonal service on central Whidbey, according to Muldowney-Stratton. At the heart of all of these changes is equity for Island Transit riders.
“Increasing service makes it easier to address equity,” she said. “In addressing equity, we are also addressing climate issues by providing greater access to allow community members who wish to use our services. Equity and climate are interrelated. Some people may wish to use the service in order to minimize their carbon footprint, some [to] save money and others need the services because they are essential workers and require a reliable transportation choice.”
Part of the new services changes include looking at how Island Transit can upgrade and optimize its own carbon footprint to help address climate issues.
“Island Transit is committed to becoming a more sustainable public transit agency,” said Muldowney-Stratton. “The move to zero emissions will take time. The agency has contracted with Hatch LTK, [which] will conduct a feasibility study (analysis and technical study) that examines which vehicles are most practical to invest in given our unique operating environment. The study examines our rural agency’s lengthy routes, geography, weather, and access to infrastructure.
“The feasibility study will assist in determining costs,” she continued. “This transition to zero emissions will likely increase the cost of the vehicles, although we also expect savings. Overall, this will help our agency reduce energy consumption.”
Muldowney-Stratton noted the agency has already begun conserving energy by installing solar panels on both of its transit facilities.