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Island Transit goes green

"Besides public transportation that gives Whidbey residents a friendly, free ride, Island Transit has become more environmentally friendly.Everyone here is into reducing cars on the road. We're all really into the environment, said Martha Rose, Island Transit director, who has been with Island Transit since its inception in December 1987. Since then she has continued to look for ways to maintain operations efficiently and with the environment in mind.About 20 buses a day, six days a week must be washed nightly. Rose had a water reclaiming and recycling unit installed, which gathers used water from the bus-washing garage into a 1,000-gallon storage tank. The water goes through a filtration system and is once again ready for washing buses. Rose and her staff tracked their water usage over a year and found that the entire Island Transit location south of Coupeville - which includes offices, maintenance garages, and the bus-washing garage - consumed water equal to that of a family of four.Disposal of used motor oil from the buses was another concern for Rose. Island Transit used to have to pay a special disposal service to cart the oil to Oregon, where it was buried in the ground. The cost of the disposal was an added expense for Island Transit, and Rose didn't like the idea of the old oil being put into the ground.Rose and her staff conducted research, which included the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA released a study concluding that the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of used motor oil was to burn it, Rose said. She then had a special oil-burning furnace installed at the transit offices. Now, the used motor oil is burned in the furnace that heats the building. This has eliminated the cost of having the oil hauled off, and has reduced the former $1,800 per month electric bill to just $300.It feels so good to know that we're providing a good, effective, efficient system, Rose said. We use tax dollars efficiently and provide a good product for that. Island Transit's fares are pre-paid by a six-tenths of 1 percent sales tax. When Island Transit began operations nearly 14 years ago it was the first fare-free system in the state.Critics said the public would not respect fare-free service - would not take ownership of it - and therefore would not take care of transit property. Vandalism was expected.We have proven that that is not the case at all, Rose said. There have only been a few cases of vandalism in 10 years.Rose wants to encourage more people to use public transportation, which will save money and reduce air pollution.And then there are those that rely on public transportation as their sole means of getting around. People in wheelchairs can rely on the special wheelchair lifts for getting them on and off the buses, and many aged people use public transportation.We have a lot of elderly and disabled riders that are able to live at home and remain independent because they have buses, Rose said.Low income people, those that don't know how to drive, and those that do not own a car can rely on Island Transit buses to get to work, to school and to the shopping centers, Rose said.The passage of Initiative 695 resulted in the loss of 60 percent of Island Transits funding, Rose said. She is thankful to Island County voters who approved the increase in sales tax to support the system in May 2000.Island Transit has 73 employees and about 35 buses. In addition it runs a fleet of about 60 vans that private individuals operate for van pools. There is a second base office on the Camano Islands. "

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