A trip to the Anacortes Farmer’s Market was the first Island Transit Ride with a Guide tour Gerald McLoughlin and his wife Kyungho took nearly two years ago when they first moved to Whidbey Island from Georgia. They found the experience enjoyable and decided to take several more tours as a way to get to know Whidbey Island and their community.
“Our tours have been very enjoyable,” says Gerald McLoughlin. “We’ve been to Deception Pass and done a little hiking with a group that went to Goose Rock. The tours are destination outings.”
The Island Transit Ride with a Guide tours were offered monthly pre-COVID-19. These tours were an opportunity to help community members become familiar with riding the bus. The tours used the regular bus routes and schedules.
Typically, between 10 and 20 people took the free Ride with a Guide tours to explore wineries, parks, shops and special events. Led by Island Transit Mobility Specialist, Maribeth Crandell, the tours included playing Transit Trivia along the way to introduce riders to Island Transit services. Any riders on the bus could answer the questions and win prizes. Tours often included time for participants to get lunch at a local restaurant or enjoy a picnic at a park.
“It’s a lot more fun to explore with others and Maribeth took such good care with the groups,” says McLoughlin. “We learned a lot about our new community.”
With COVID-19, Island Transit has temporarily cancelled the Ride with a Guide tours. The McLoughlins were registered to take a tour in March of 2020 to see fields of daffodils in the Skagit Valley. Although looking forward to the community experience the tours offered, they chose to take Island Transit to explore La Conner on their own. That’s exactly what the tours were meant to do; help people become familiar and comfortable taking the bus without a guide.
Currently, as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, public buses have limited seating available to accommodate for social distancing, require masks and ask riders to enter and exit through the rear door. While there are no official tours at this time, Island Transit operators are always willing to help riders to make connections and find their bus stops.
McLoughlin, recently retired, is familiar with public transportation, “We took the train in Connecticut, the metro system in Virginia, and the subway in New York and Korea.”
He and his wife occasionally take the bus to the Clinton ferry and walk on, then connect with other transit systems to get into Seattle. “This is the only place I’ve taken a ferry and seen a big gray whale right next to the ship.”
When asked how Island Transit compares with other transit systems, McLoughlin’s response was enthusiastic, “Well, it’s excellent. It’s not a subway. It’s not a train. But it’s excellent. The Island Transit system is reliable, friendly and everyone on the bus shares a sense of comradery. Plus, the system is free. It’s the only free public transit system that I’ve experienced.”