Council hears from local transportation service

Representatives from Orcas Island Shuttle, Island Energy Systems and the Agricultural Resources Committee spoke to the County Council at its June 24 meeting on Orcas Island.

Amy Masters, who, with her husband Ed, runs Orcas Shuttle, told the County Council on June 24, “Public Transit is hold on by a very thin thread.” Fuel now costs $5.36 a gallon, compared to $2.89 a gallon when the business began.

Insurance costs have risen from $1.5 million for six months (Orcas Shuttle operates 72 days a year, from June 21 to Sept. 1) to $5 million for a year-round policy. The State Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) applies the same insurance rates for all transportation services, Masters says.

She adds that their car rental business is going well; up from two cars in 2003 to 38 cars now.

Council Member Gene Knapp said, “At some point – maybe not the too distant future – we are going to need public transportation. We have to start looking at subsidizing it. We’ve been fortunate to have [Orcas Shuttle] laying the groundwork.”

Masters replied, “The rental cars [service] are okay, but the bus can’t survive much longer. If it goes away, we’ll be hard-pressed to find another business with the in-house skills.”

Council Member Kevin Ranker suggested the formation of a transportation district, “a self-taxing proposition.”

County Administrator Pete Rose said the county can’t directly subsidize a private business; however it can set aside funds for a specific outcome and contract for that outcome, and in that way, “get in the door for federal transportation funds.”

In response to questions from the Council, Masters said that about 20 percent of their ridership is “locals using the service,” including Rosario employees who use passes.

Costs for the Orcas Shuttle bus run about $200 a day. Masters said that, with the car rental and charter operations sustaining their company, it’s okay to not make a profit on the bus service. “But I won’t let it bankrupt me,” said Masters.