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Island Transit offers free vehicles to nonprofits

Island Transit employees, from left, Meg Heppner, Lou Shuart, Staci Jordan, Sandy Rubini and Julie Lloyd sit in one of the buses that are available to nonprofit groups in the community. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Island Transit employees, from left, Meg Heppner, Lou Shuart, Staci Jordan, Sandy Rubini and Julie Lloyd sit in one of the buses that are available to nonprofit groups in the community.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Under normal circumstances, New Leaf of Oak Harbor wouldn’t be able to afford to purchase a bus, let alone one with a wheelchair lift.

But thanks to an Island Transit program, the nonprofit organization has a small bus that can seat 10 people, including two individuals who use wheelchairs. Rhea Nelson, executive director of New Leaf, said the bus is also loaned out to Special Olympics and provides invaluable transportation.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to transport people who use wheelchairs,” Nelson said. New Leaf provides employment and other opportunities for people with disabilities.

Again this year, nonprofit groups that serve Island County will get the chance to be awarded a nearly-free vehicle through Island Transit’s “community surplus vehicle program.”

Island Transit Director Martha Rose said the unique program began in 2002 with a few years’ worth of accumulated surplus vehicles. Instead of auctioning off retiring buses and vans, she proposed giving nonprofit groups in the county the opportunity to use them.

“It really has been wonderfully successful,” she said. “It’s really rewarding and so nice to have vehicles stay in the community.”

The program is meant to augment Island Transit’s mission of providing transportation to citizens. In order to be awarded with a vehicle, a group must agree to provide a transportation program of some sort for a year. The agency monitors compliance through ridership reports.

One group, for example, puts together outings for children with disabilities.

An interested organization must fill out an application. The successful groups will have a vehicle “transfered” to their ownership, Rose explained.

This year, Island Transit is offering 32 vehicles in the surplus program. There are no long buses available, but the list includes six 25-foot buses, which can fit 21 passengers. There are also vans of all different sizes and one car.

The buses and vans have been well used.

“We put a lot of miles on our vehicles. About two times as many as other systems in the state,” Rose said.

The only cost for the vehicles is $25 for a vehicle trip permit.

Applications are due by May 2. The awards will be announced no later than May 19.

Applications may be requested by contacting Meg Heppner, community relations coordinator, at heppner@islandtransit.org or by calling 360-678-9502.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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