November’s ballot: Initiative 976 and impacts to Island Transit service
Voters in Washington State will be asked on the November 5, 2019, general election ballot whether to approve an initiative concerning motor vehicle taxes and fees. The measure does several things, including limiting annual motor vehicle license fees to $30, which would reduce the funding that supports local bus and paratransit service across the state, including at Island Transit.
Initiative 976 changes vehicle taxes and fees by lowering motor vehicle and light duty truck weight fees to $30; eliminating the 0.3 percent sales tax on vehicle purchases; lowering electric vehicle and snowmobile fees; modifying and reducing Sound Transit motor vehicle excise tax provisions; and removing authority for transportation benefit districts to impose a vehicle fee.
Here’s how Island Transit bus and paratransit service will be impacted if Initiative 976 passes. According to the state’s Office of Financial Management, the changes outlined above will, over the next 6 years, create a $4.2 billion revenue loss for transportation programs statewide. The State Multimodal Account is included in that reduction and will lose $1.5 billion—about 70% of its total funding--over that same period if the measure is approved. That account provides funding for Island Transit and other transit agencies in our state, as well as the ferries and State Patrol. Almost half of its funds are currently designated for transit programs.
Approximately 17% of Island Transit’s annual operating revenue comes from the State Multimodal Account which would lose approximately 70% of its funding if Initiative 976 is approved by the voters. Those state dollars help pay for Island Transit’s bus, vanpool and related paratransit service throughout Island County as well as the agency’s County Connector bus routes which connect county residents to Anacortes, Stanwood, Mount Vernon, and Everett.
If Initiative 976 passes, funding for those services will be disrupted and diminished. Island Transit would not be able to sustain its current level of service. The amount and location of service cuts would be decided by the Island Transit Board of Directors once the full extent of the funding lost is known. In the meantime, this agency will maintain existing levels of service. As always, Island Transit will stay true to its mission to provide safe, accessible, convenient, and friendly public transportation services which enhance our Island quality of life.
Although the future of Island Transit’s state funding is uncertain until the general election in November, progress is being made in the effort to increase federal funding for transit agencies across the country. Our agency is a member of The Bus Coalition, and we serve on the Board of Directors. This group has been focused on restoring and increasing funding for the bus and bus facility program. In July the Congressional Bus Caucus, chaired by our own Congressman, Rick Larsen, highlighted the innovations in public transit. In September we participated in two days of Capitol Hill visits with our Senators and House members, as well as meetings with officials from the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) and Department of Transportation. The administration emphasized their commitment to helping rural transit systems such as Island Transit. This work is paying off! The Administration earlier proposed increasing bus funding by $250 million. The House has voted to increase funding for buses in the upcoming fiscal year by $485 million. The Senate is proposing an increase of $470 million. Island Transit is waiting to hear whether our request for funding two buses and some related equipment will be selected for funding by FTA.
Island Transit updates its Mission Statement
In the spring the Island Transit management team reviewed the agency’s mission statement and updated it to better reflect the value and purpose of the agency. The mission of Island Transit is to provide safe, accessible, convenient, and friendly public transportation services which enhance our Island quality of life. This new mission statement is being rolled out internally to help each employee understand the value of their contribution to the critical public service that Island Transit provides.
The agency has been successful in several rounds of grant competition to acquire five light-duty and ten paratransit propane-powered buses and related infrastructure. These buses burn cleaner than traditional diesel or gas vehicles. The agency is studying electric vehicles but the technology is still lacking for electric vehicles to work well on the long bus routes that Island Transit operates.
Washington State Transit Association Bus Roadeo and Washington State Department of Transportation Wall of Fame
In August Island Transit 20-year coach operator Mark Vance represented the agency well in the annual state Bus Roadeo. Administrative Assistant Elizabeth Allred was selected on behalf of Island Transit to be inducted into the Wall of Fame for her outstanding job performance and superb customer service skills.
Bus service to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island
Island Transit is pleased to be partnering with NAS Whidbey Island to provide service for Navy employees living in Navy housing in Oak Harbor. There are two bus trips each weekday, each direction providing expedited service through the Charles Porter Gate (thanks to a special transit/HOV designated access road created by Island County) right to the flight lines on the base where people work. Ridership has recently doubled and hopefully will continue to grow.
Ride with a Guide on Island Transit
Island Transit has a unique federally-funded program that introduces the public to our regularly-scheduled bus service. It’s called Ride with a Guide and is led by Island Transit employee Maribeth Crandell. Maribeth leads groups of interested persons on interesting trips throughout our county, as a way to show people how easy and fun it is to ride Island Transit, while seeing or doing something fun on one of our Islands. There are four trips left in 2019: a Thrift Shop Tour (Oak Harbor) - October 18; a Winery Tour on South Whidbey – November 8; a Camano Holiday Tour to Mt Vernon – November 23; and a Holiday Lights Tour (Coupeville and Oak Harbor) – December 7. For more information please go to our website or contact Maribeth at email@example.com or 360-678-9536.
Island Transit Vanpools
A great option to improving the commute to work or school, on or off the islands, is to join an Island Transit vanpool. Agency staff are pleased to help interested commuters find a vanpool group that works well for them. The fare contributes to the cost of fuel, maintenance and insurance, making vanpooling a very affordable way to commute, which some employers will subsidize. The van is provided by Island Transit. Agency vanpools get priority boarding the ferry and parking privileges at many key locations. For more information, please go on-line or contact Island Transit vanpool staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-678-7771.
Todd E. Morrow, Executive Director