Executive Director’s Report – Year in Review 2019
Last year was a good year at Island Transit, where we continued our mission of providing safe, accessible, convenient, and friendly public transportation services that enhance our Island quality of life. This included managing through a major snowstorm, adding our first-ever bus service onto Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, successfully competing for funding to replace aging vehicles and maintenance systems, and providing public transportation services throughout Island County.
Transit service highlights
Although the numbers aren’t final yet for 2019 ridership, on an average weekday Island Transit carried 3,000 passenger trips across all modes of service: bus, paratransit and vanpool. Ridership continues to be flat, as it is in many rural systems across America. Service improvements included adding trips in the evening on both islands, creating a new route on Saturdays that better connects Langley with the Mukilteo ferry and the main service on Whidbey Island, adding several trips on Saturdays, and creating a new two-trip route connecting those living in Navy housing in Oak Harbor with their jobsite on the Naval Air Station.
Managing the agency’s resources
Island Transit fulfilled its mission within its operating budget of $14 million. It continued the trend of managing operating costs well and reducing the growth in paratransit service costs. The budget was amended mid-year to provide for the cost of service to NAS Whidbey Island and move dollars to fund vehicle purchases.
Upgrading the vehicle fleet
Thanks to competitive funding from the federal government for vehicle purchases, Island Transit was able to replace a large portion of its fleet significantly in 2019. This included five Chevy vans, seven medium-duty Freightliner cutaways, and two 29’ Gillig buses. Also received was one Ford Transit road support van with a lift, and five all-wheel drive support vehicles. The need for those vehicles became clear during the snow event; Island Transit did not have any all-wheel drive capability but for one service truck. Thanks to other federal funding, Island Transit has ordered three 35’ hybrid diesel-electric Gillig buses, five light-duty Ford propane cutaway buses, and ten light-duty Ford propane paratransit vehicles. To be ready for the propane vehicles the agency has installed one propane station at the Coupeville facility. The agency applied for federal funding and received notice of the award for even more vehicles and systems: two 29’ Gillig buses, two medium-duty cutaway buses, a parts washer, a propane evacuation machine, and an A/C refrigerant evacuation machine.
Improving and maintaining our facilities
Island Transit facilities staff are responsible for maintaining our bus stops, shelters and park and rides across both islands. Thanks to a grant shared by Island Transit, eleven bus stop seats/benches were installed. A new shelter was installed at an improved bus pullout on Hwy 525 and Woodard Road. LED lights were installed at Terry’s Corner park and ride on Camano Island.
All staff was trained in information systems security including simulated phishing attempts. Staff also detected several fraudulent phishing attempts designed to change the pay deposits of agency employees. The network servers were upgraded and all users were moved to Windows 10 platforms at their work stations. The inoperable surveillance cameras at the main facility bus yard and at Harbor Station were repaired or replaced. An electronic lock for the Camano base front door, controlled at the dispatch desk, was installed.
2019 snow event
In February the county and all of western Washington was hit with a major snow event that lasted for nearly two weeks. Island County was blanketed with snow and ice and also suffered from power outages. The worst of the snowstorm was from February 4 through February 9. The agency was able to provide service each scheduled day but one (February 9). All employees pitched in to make sure that service was provided despite the snow. Island Transit safely transported 6935 riders during the February 4 through 9 period on Whidbey and Camano islands and did not receive any complaints during this weather event.
In November the voters in the State of Washington approved an initiative that reduced car taxes and fees, although a majority of Island County residents voted against the initiative. Island Transit provided county voters information about the initiative—it jeopardizes 19% of the agency’s operating revenue and puts capital dollars at risk—through information on the buses and agency website, employees who attended a voluntary “all hands” meeting, community forums, and a newspaper article. Following the initiative’s passage the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) notified the agency that it would not be receiving the $514,000 vanpool funding it had previously been awarded (at least in the next six months), and that for now, the funding for the state’s share of the agency’s operating revenue was not on the cut list. The Island Transit Board of Directors approved a 2020 budget for the agency that assumes it will receive 80% of the state operating assistance and no state capital dollars for vanpool purchases. The Board also reviewed a set of principles and strategies for managing agency priorities and expenses.
Grant awards and federal funding
Island Transit continues to do well when it comes to grant competitions. Once again Island Transit was successful in a national competition for bus and bus facilities federal dollars, this time winning a grant for two Gillig buses and three different maintenance systems. The agency participated in a Washington, DC, advocacy trip for that grant, and for increased federal dollars in general for bus and bus facilities. The agency is also involved in a federal effort that has been successful in increasing this fiscal year’s funding for buses by $453 million nationwide. The agency was awarded a grant from the Washington State Transit Insurance Pool for tracking equipment for vanpool vans. Despite the loss in state funding, WSDOT signed an agreement with Island Transit awarding the agency $50,000 to fund a system network analysis, a goal of the Executive Director of the agency. To position the agency favorably for grant awards and increased funding, the Island Transit Executive Director is a Board member of The Bus Coalition (a national organization that advocates for increasing federal bus funding), the treasurer of the Washington State Transit Association, and treasurer of the Economic Development Council of Island County.
Island Transit Mission Statement
The mission statement of Island Transit was updated for two purposes: to help agency workers better understand the value of their work, and to help the public understand the purpose and value of the agency. The mission of Island Transit is to provide safe, accessible, convenient and friendly public transportation services that enhance our Island quality of life. Employee meetings were held and signboards created to help staff better understand their role in the work of Island Transit.
Audits, plans, and policies
The annual financial and accountability audits performed by the state were clean and with just one process finding. The Washington State Department of Transportation completed its site review of Island Transit’s consolidated grants. Island Transit reviewed, updated, and adopted several new plans to conform to state and federal law, including Title VI Non-Discrimination Plan, the Americans with Disabilities Act Specialized Services Policy, the Disadvantaged Business Enterprises Program, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Program. The Customer Complaint Policy, the Harassment Policy, and the Six-Year Transit Development Plan were also revised and adopted. In an effort to strengthen the recognition of the Island Transit brand and to communicate more effectively, the logo of the agency was updated and standards and templates were developed for all materials that the agency uses for marketing and other communication purposes.
Employee awards and events
The Employee Advisory Committee organized events throughout the year, including the fun Holiday Party at the Oak Harbor American Legion and roadside clean-ups. Coach operator Mark Vance won the Island Transit Roadeo and competed at the state competition. Elizabeth Allred received the Spirit Award and became part of the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Wall of Fame. Angela Colon and Richard Johnson were the Employees of the Half from Whidbey Island and Willow Bunker the Employee of the Year from Camano Island.
Staffing, Recruitment, and Human Resources
This was a busy year for recruitment. Five employees changed positions within Island Transit. There was a 46% increase in recruitment compared to 2018. This increase is a result of attrition and staffing increases needed for service adjustments. Preparation was undertaken to implement the Washington State paid Family Medical Leave program in 2020. Island Transit was required to increase the percentage of random drug testing from 25% to 50% of covered employees.
Vanpool program and RideLink
There are forty-six active groups of commuters using Island Transit vans. The year began with forty-eight groups and had a high of forty-nine groups. There are now four Island County RideLink vans being used by three non-profit organizations to provide transportation primarily for individuals who cannot be served well by existing Island Transit bus service.
“Ride with a Guide” tours continue to be popular with participants and a good way to introduce the benefits of transit to potential riders. Half of the participants were new riders to the bus system. A total of 174 people participated in these tours which were held on both islands and in some cases connected to the public transit system in Skagit County and in Jefferson County. Each tour averaged fourteen participants. The Island Transit mobility specialist also organized the “Bigfoot on the Bus” campaign which encouraged people to reduce their carbon footprint by utilizing transit rather than single-occupant vehicles. Another highlight was handing out over 200 reflective safety vests and wrist bands as part of the annual Can U C Me campaign to increase safety awareness during the shorter days of winter.
In the community
Island Transit participated in a multitude of fairs, festivals, and parades across the county, oftentimes with buses and booths. Through the Island Transit Board of Directors and senior agency staff, Island Transit participates in county and regional transportation efforts such as the North Sound Transportation Alliance and the Island Regional Transportation Planning Organization. The agency provided the transportation for invitees at the county’s dedication ceremony of the new Oakes Road.
Todd E. Morrow, Executive Director