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SeaTac shuttle covers Whidbey

Getting to SeaTac Airport just got easier for Whidbey Islanders.

Whidbey-SeaTac Shuttle started operating this week, offering islanders four round-trips daily to the region’s international airport.

It’s the first time shuttle service has been offered south of Oak Harbor, and the first time Oak Harbor residents can hop aboard a shuttle, head down Whidbey Island and take the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry on the way to the airport.

Previously, the only SeaTac shuttle service was offered by the Ferndale-based Airporter Shuttle. North Whidbey residents can board that shuttle in Oak Harbor, but it goes through Mount Vernon to reach SeaTac. And in Mount Vernon, passengers have to change shuttles before heading south. From South Whidbey, travelers can catch the Airporter Shuttle in Mukilteo at the ferry dock.

Owners of Whidbey-SeaTac Shuttle, president John Solin and general manager Mike Lauver, believe their new service will be faster and more convenient for many islanders.

“We realized there was no service to SeaTac from Central Whidbey, Coupeville and the Southend,” said Lauver. “And from the Northend it was a 3 1/2 hour adventure with a change of buses.”

Airporter Shuttle maintains that its time from Oak Harbor is more like 2 1/2 hours, and notes that it makes nine roundtrips daily from North Whidbey to SeaTac.

Starting the new business wasn’t as simple as buying two new Mercedes/Dodge shuttle buses and hiring drivers. First, the route needed approval from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

This was an eight month process, finalized in November. Airporter Shuttle didn’t object to giving its new competitor the South and Central Whidbey territory, but did object to sharing Oak Harbor. But the WUTC board sided with the Whidbey-SeaTac proposal, and permission was granted.

Solin said the WUTC supports service that is “fast, direct and convenient -- we showed we can do it and got the franchise.”

Whidbey-SeaTac’s territory is all of Whidbey Island. They are not allowed to pick up passengers anywhere else, including Mukilteo, other than the airport.

Early this week Whidbey-Seatac Shuttle had nine employees, on its way to a full staff of 14. The owners are still looking for a few drivers. The company will include five dispatchers.

Solin and Lauver are well-known local businessmen, and both are pilots. Love of flying brought them together originally in hopes of starting a commuter airline service to replace the now-defunct Harbor Air. But ownership issues with the Oak Harbor airport were too complex to overcome, they said, so rather than flying folks to Sea-Tac, they decided to drive them.

Solin, a retired Navy pilot, once owned the cinemas in Oak Harbor, while Lauver, a former bush pilot in Alaska, owned Tortuga’s restaurant in Coupeville.

They’re hopeful that there’s a big demand on Whidbey Island for shuttle service to SeaTac. “Harbor Air averaged 75 people per day, and there’s been nothing to replace it,” Solin said. They estimate islanders make 200 trips per day to SeaTac, with half of those trips originating in Oak Harbor.

Shuttles will begin at 4:15 a.m. at the NAS Whidbey main gate and proceed south, making stops at the Oak Harbor 7-11, Coupeville Country Store, Greenbank Store, Freeland Shell, Bayview Exxon, and Naomi’s Self Service at the corner of Langley Road and Highway 525. From there it’s a short drive to the Clinton ferry, where the shuttles will enjoy priority loading privileges. There is no extra charge for taking the ferry.

There will be four round-trips daily to start, with more added later if the service proves popular. Cost is $28 to $34 one-way, depending upon location and type of fare. Discounts for seniors, active duty military and children are available.

The new business was welcomed to town Wednesday by the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Patty Cohen commended Solin and Lauver for their “entrepreneurial spirit and drive,” while State Rep. Barbara Bailey crediting them with “filling a transportation void” on Whidbey Island.

A few chamber members boarded one of the spanking new nine-passenger shuttles for a demonstration trip to Coupeville. Regular service started Thursday.

Shuttle basics

The new Whidbey-SeaTac Shuttle makes four trips daily to SeaTac International Airport, beginning at 4:15 a.m. at the NAS Whidbey gate. From downtown Oak Harbor, it takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to reach the airport, less than that from elsewhere on the island. The first return trip from SeaTac leaves at 8 a.m. For reservations call 679-4003 from North Whidbey, or toll-free 877-679-4003 from elsewhere on the island.

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