Transportation alternatives set to serve Vashon-Maury soon

Nearly three years after King County Metro sought islanders’ input to improve transportation options on Vashon, the first changes are set to take place.

Soon islanders will have access to two community vans operated by volunteer drivers, a ride share app to help coordinate carpools and a transportation hub, staffed with a transportation coordinator.

The Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce will house and administer the new program, while King County will fund the effort and provide two vans to the island. The chamber’s Executive Director Jim Marsh says he plans to begin the hiring process for the part-time coordinator as soon as Strawberry Festival is over. He noted that the resources have the potential to be useful for the community.

“I am hopeful that it may fill in the gaps of transportation needs on the island,” he said. “Hopefully, we will have good volunteers that will like doing this … and people who will want to use the rides, and it will be a good resource for them.”

The person that the chamber will hire in the coming weeks will serve as the community transportation coordinator, Marsh said. He or she will be tasked with letting people know about the vans, recruiting and training volunteer drivers and working with the community on the best use of the vans.

When the vans are being used, Marsh said that every trip must have a driver and two passengers and must be open to other riders, unless the trip is full.

“It is kind of like carpools meet van share,” he said.

An additional benefit, Marsh added, is that the chamber has negotiated with the county to use the vans during large island activities, such as the sheepdog trials.

“That gives us an accessible vehicle to meet that need and an extra resource for big events,” he said.

In addition to the vans and transportation coordinator, King County officials hope islanders will be able to carpool more easily through a program called Real-Time Rideshare, an informal option that matches riders and drivers via the smartphone app iCarpool. That, too, will launch when the coordinator is in place.

At King County, Cathy Snow, who heads the Alternative Services Program, said once the staff person is hired, everything is in place to serve the island.

“It is all dependent on the community transportation coordinator,” she said. “That is the lynch pin to make this go.”

When the county started working with islanders on alternative transportation needs and options in 2015, the hope was to provide services on Vashon in the summer of 2016. There have been delays since then, and just last winter Snow said she hoped to have services on the island in place last spring. Now, after prolonged contract negotiations with the Chamber of Commerce, it appears services will be offered this year. As a visible sign of progress, the vans will take part in this weekend’s Strawberry Festival parade.

— Susan Riemer