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Editorial: Island Transit still on a roll
In many ways, Island Transit has come to personify Whidbey Island for visitors since its first order of five buses rolled off the ferry 20 years ago.
Mainlanders who take the bus from the Clinton or Keystone ferry docks are immediately initiated to the island lifestyle by stepping aboard Island Transit. The bus drivers are always friendly, the passengers generally are, and theres no charge to ride the bus.
No charge? This is unbelievable to most riders, as Island Transit is one of the few public transportation systems in existence not to charge passengers a fare. For 20 years, the philosophy has been that fares dont bring in much revenue to a rural bus system, theyre an expensive hassle to collect, and the presence of money on board could tempt some drug-addled mainlander to stage a robbery. So all in all, its best not to charge a fare.
The sum total of the experience is that visitors get a very favorable impression of Whidbey (and Camano) Island by taking the transit, and its a great plus for the community.
People of vision started Island Transit 20 years ago. It was gutsy to try to start a publicly-financed bus system in those days. There was vigorous opposition to the idea, particularly on North Whidbey. But voters eventually approved a transit district which expanded as its popularity grew.
Today, Island Transit with its fleet of more than 100 vehicles and facilities on both islands has become a necessity for thousands of islanders. And although it wasnt the original intent, Island Transit is helping to reduce global warming by taking people out of their automobiles. They also offer an unbeatable way to dodge the rising cost of gasoline. Tired of high gas prices? Save more than $3 a gallon by riding the bus.
Over its first 20 years, Island Transit has grown to become a beloved necessity in Island County, something that voters are anxious to preserve even in the face of financial crisis. After the motor vehicle excise tax was repealed by initiative, gutting Island Transits budget, voters quickly made up the difference by approving a slightly higher local sales tax.
Its obvious that after 20 years of community service, Island Transit is going nowhere but forward in its next two decades of hauling people around Whidbey and Camano islands.