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Whidbey residents embrace Sounder's new Mukilteo-Seattle routes

Commuter Jason Smith settles down with a good book on the Sounder train instead of dealing with traffic and high gas prices. - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Commuter Jason Smith settles down with a good book on the Sounder train instead of dealing with traffic and high gas prices.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

The water rolls by outside the windows, silver-peaked with sunlight. The view of the busy city fading into mountains sets the mood for relaxation as passengers tune out to iPods, books, or finish up a little office work. There’s no traffic to enrage wearied workers and gas prices have less of a choke-hold on these commuters.

Whidbey Island commuters are now more connected thanks to the Sounder commuter rail’s new stop at Mukilteo. Daily weekday service started June 2.

“I love the Sounder. It’s so nice and a really pleasant ride,” said Valerie Taylor. She’s been commuting from Whidbey Island to Seattle for two years.

The Sounder has three roundtrips from Mukilteo to Seattle. It leaves at 6:23, 6:53 and 7:23 a.m. The return trips from Seattle to Mukilteo are at 4:33, 5:05 and 5:35 p.m. The Sounder runs these on weekdays only.

“I hate driving and gas prices are out of control,” said Jason Smith. “The train is more relaxing and saves me money.”

From Mukilteo to Seattle, the Sounder fare is $4. From Mukilteo to Edmonds, the fare is $3.25.

Smith commutes from Marysville to the University of Washington in Seattle. Originally, Smith commuted by bus, but he enjoys the calm atmosphere of the Sounder. He can read and not worry about traffic or squished, crowded seats. Also, he can enjoy food and beverages on the train while the bus doesn’t allow those.

“The Sounder is more comfortable than a bus,” Smith said, relaxing to read a good book instead of deal with tough traffic.

Brendan Blaylock commutes from Shoreline to Seattle and loves the Sounder.

“We’re all adults here. There’s no riff-raff like on buses,” Blaylock said.

He’s impressed that the Sounder is always on time, clean and quiet. There’s always been space for him and it never gets so full that he has to stand up.

The Sounder also features work tables, computer plug-ins, and fully accessible restrooms in its double-deck cars.

While very useful, the Sounder isn’t flawless. The 7:23 a.m. Sounder train leaves three minutes after the Mukilteo ferry docks. It takes a wild sprint to get from the ferry dock to the Sounder station in three minutes.

“I don’t like to rush. The ferry needs to leave three minutes earlier or the Sounder get there three minutes later. All you need is three minutes,” said Taylor. He takes the bus to Seattle in the mornings and the Sounder at night.

Linda Robson, spokeswoman for Sound Transit, said Sound Transit is working with the ferries so that both shift their schedules by a few minutes. The goal is to give 10 to 12 minutes between the ferry arriving and the train leaving.

“But during the summer, people will have to hustle,” Robson said.

If commuters aren’t able to catch the Sounder after disembarking from the ferry, the Community Transit is available. Buses arrive at the ferry dock and passengers can ride to Seattle. The fare is $1.25 from Mukilteo to downtown Seattle.

Jim Brown commutes from South Whidbey to Greenlake. His commute takes two hours each way every day. However, he has no choice but to drive it. The Sounder doesn’t go where he needs to go. He could take the Sounder to Edmonds, but then he would have to take two buses to work from there.

“I’d love to be able to take the Sounder, but I don’t want to make my commute any longer,” Brown said. He already gets up at 4 a.m. and doesn’t get home until 6:15 p.m.

Blaylock would also like the Sounder to run more often.

“I’d like to see a couple of trains mid-day and an evening run or two, but it’s for commuters so those times might not be good for them,” Blaylock said.

Smith would get more use out of a north end stop at Ballard. He knows a lot of people at the University of Washington who commute by bus from Ballard but would rather take the train.

There won’t be any new stops, but a fourth roundtrip to Mukilteo will be added in September. Sound Transit will announce the time changes later in the summer.

“Mukilteo is the last big addition to the north end,” Robson said.

However, there’s an idea on the table to add a new stop at Broad Street along the Seattle waterfront for commuters working in north Seattle.

“It’s only in the conceptual stage,” Robson said. It depends on approval of a ballot measure.

Currently, Brown keeps one car on the Clinton side of the ferry and another car on the Mukilteo side.

“I’m starting to feel the gas prices a lot,” Brown said regretfully.

His solution was for Island Transit to send more buses past his home on Bush Point Road. He has to catch the 6:30 a.m. ferry and the buses don’t go past his home at that time.

However, Island Transit is unable to add new routes. It’s difficult enough coping with increasing fuel prices in their budget, according to Martha Rose, executive director of Island Transit. Bus fare is free, so funding comes only from sales tax dollars.

Commuters had no complaints about the ferry system.

“The ferry is great. There are no problems with it,” said Brown.

As a whole, the Sounder train, ferry system and Island Transit and Community Transit bus systems form a money-saving trifecta for commuters.

Tim McDonald commutes from Coupeville to Everett. He uses a pass that works for ferries and buses.

“For a month worth of commuting the pass costs me $68.80, so it’s very reasonable. I would suspect if I were driving, with gas and ferry fees, it would cost me around $500,” McDonald said.

For more information on the Sounder train, call 1-888-889-6368 or visit soundtransit.org.

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