Shuttle a fine idea that never catches on

Get on the bus, the adage goes.

Islanders do just that – to a point.

Every morning, we queue up at roadsides the length and breadth of Bainbridge, swaddled in greatcoats and huddled beneath neighborhood bus shelters, waiting for the No. 94 or No. 96 or No. 98 to rumble up and whisk us to the ferry terminal. Then we get on the boat for our high-paying jobs in Seattle, and repeat the process in reverse come evening.

For those left on the island each day, though, the bus isn’t quite so practical. After waxing with commuter hours, midday transit service wanes to almost nothing. Those who live near the highway can hop a cross-island run to and from downtown at several points, but from 8:30 a.m. to 3:40 p.m., the Route 100 Winslow Shuttle is the only ride in town.

And, it turns out, even its days may be numbered.

Citing poor ridership, Kitsap Transit may abandon the route’s midday runs next year – this, when the threshold for continued service is a meager 10 riders per hour. Think about that: only 10 riders per hour to keep the bus going, and on an island of some 22,000 residents, the shuttle doesn’t attract even that.

Certainly, there’s a difference between connecting neighborhoods with Winslow, and just spiriting riders in a big loop around town. But Kitsap Transit has consistently added service – newer buses, and bigger ones – to meet growing demand by commuters. Surely they’d be adding midday service, not subtracting it, if they saw the ridership to support it. Clearly, they don’t.

Yet how often have you been to a public meeting or opened the newspaper’s letters page to find someone entreating, “If more people rode the bus, we wouldn’t need more parking in Winslow”? It’s an excellent notion and a popular one, but the foundering shuttle suggests it’s too wishful to be a sound component of downtown planning.

Recall that a year ago, the City Council discussed a plan to bus downtown employees to and from remote parking lots, but it was scuttled amidst concerns over cost and participation that proved remarkably prescient.

More recently, several property owners have approached the city offering land for short-term parking lots, to meet the need anticipated when Winslow Way is torn up for much of 2009; that idea is in abeyance while officials sort through permitting requirements and other considerations.

What’s becoming clear is that – as with the larger looming issue of a downtown parking garage – some idealized notion of expanded bus service scooting happy shoppers to and from downtown stores can’t be part of the discussion. For better or worse, daytime islanders want to put the pedal down and get to Winslow in their own cars; until the community proves otherwise, our planning should reflect that.

Governance is largely a matter of negotiating the difference between what citizens should do, and what they actually want to do. To that end, perhaps a summit between city officials and Kitsap Transit would be worthwhile.

Perhaps it would bring some insight to the Winslow Shuttle’s apparent failure and what that portends for future service. Perhaps someone can dream up a way to make midday bus routes both attractive and financially viable.

For now, islanders are voting with their feet – specifically, their right ones.