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Disappointment apparent during Island Transit meeting Monday

Oak Harbor resident Cheryl Louder speaks at a community meeting about Island Transit Monday evening. She relies on buses to travel to the airport.  - Photo by Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor resident Cheryl Louder speaks at a community meeting about Island Transit Monday evening. She relies on buses to travel to the airport.
— image credit: Photo by Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

Disappointment was the dominant emotion at Island Transit’s first community meeting Monday in Oak Harbor about impending bus route cuts and changes.

Some people in the audience of about 30 voiced concerns about the route alterations, which they said would have a significant impact on their lives and the lives of others in the community.

Others were upset that Island Transit Director Martha Rose wasn’t at the meeting, but instead sent three employees from the operations side of the business to discuss the complicated changes to routes.

Rose has become a target of anger after she announced last month that 22 percent of the labor force was going to be cut and that routes were going to be affected because the agency ran out of money.

“Where is Martha Rose and what is she not telling the public?” one audience member yelled out.

Oak Harbor resident Jim Pace said he hoped Rose or members of the Transit board would show up; he had a set of hard-hitting questions ready.

“Needless to say, when I saw the medium-size fish in the operations manager and the two young folks that look like deer in the headlights were the sacrificial lambs, I knew the jig was up,” he said afterward.

Operations Manager Shawn Harris said the administration at Island Transit discussed whether Rose should attend the meeting, but they decided her presence would distract from the goal of discussing routes.

He said he would be sure to pass on concerns to Rose.

“There might be some trust lost,” he said. “…We are going to do our best to regain that.”

Tuesday, Rose reiterated that the purpose of the community meetings is solely to discuss route changes. She said Island Transit may have a community meeting in the future on the topic of finances, but not until after auditors have looked through the books and come up with answers to what happened.

People at the meeting made it clear that the fare-free bus service is vital to the community. Elderly people take the bus to hospital appointments. Teenagers grab buses to get to school. People take them to jobs or to court.

Harris acknowledged that the route cuts will have “a trickle-down effect for our community.”

Perhaps the biggest complaint about route changes was that Saturday bus service, including paratransit, is being discontinued. Harris said his plan is to bring Saturday service back in about a year.

Oak Harbor resident Alamash Aketch said she can’t drive because of medical issues and depends on buses to get to medical appointments as far away as Seattle.

She said she wasn’t happy that the routes she uses are being changed without any input from the community.

“It just isn’t fair,” she said.

Oak Harbor resident Cheryl Louder regularly takes buses to get to the airport and back. She said it takes a lot of planning and route cuts will make it that much more difficult.

Still, she doesn’t take the bus service for granted.

“I have never been on a bus system where the drivers are so courteous to the riders, especially the elderly,” she said.

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