Island Transit is aiming to provide on-demand bus service to certain areas of Whidbey Island as early as this fall.
The agency also plans to expand service hours, including Sunday service, by May 2023.
Island Transit Executive Director Todd Morrow announced the plans for the transportation agency during a Langley City Council meeting last week.
“This is an exciting type of service that we’re seeing used all around the world,” Morrow said. “It’s really a way to connect riders to transit.”
Morrow explained that Island Transit is considering three different areas of Whidbey Island to have on-demand service. The proposed areas are near state parks in Central Whidbey, near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island on the North End, and in South Whidbey around Skagit Head and Lone and Goss lakes.
It will not be a door-to-door service, but a way to bring passengers to existing fixed routes, especially in rural areas. It’s not a replacement for fixed route service or paratransit, which is for people with disabilities, but a supplement to it.
“In some cases it’s going to cost us more money to do this,” Morrow said. “But again, it’s all about achieving our equity goals and making sure as many people as possible have access to transit.”
Morrow said it is still unclear exactly what on-demand service will look like, but the plan is to have a smartphone application or telephone number to call to schedule a trip to use on-demand service, as little as an hour in advance. On-demand service would also be fare-free.
While the system would be a challenge to people who don’t have access to a smartphone or internet, riders could also wave down buses from the street, the director said.
On-demand service buses will use electric vehicles as part of Island Transit’s goal to transition into a zero-carbon emission fleet.
Morrow said the area on North Whidbey near the Navy base will be the first to have on-demand service, which will be specifically aimed at those who work at the base. The goal is to have that in place by this September. The goal for starting on-demand service on the South End is September 2023.
All of this depends on Island Transit having enough bus drivers. As of right now, there are enough staff to complete the goal of on-demand service on North Whidbey this fall, according to Island Transit Marketing and Communications Officer Selene Muldowney-Stratton.