Buses With A Difference

Say it isn’t so, but some times it is necessary to leave the island for a day. You know you’ve settled into the island lifestyle when you need a refresher about traveling off the island. The rates are what? The schedules are for when? And then comes the culture shock of traveling on the island versus traveling on the mainland.

The Mainland

Most of the world would recognize Seattle metropolitan mass transit: extensive, somewhat expensive, and an opportunity to experience the natural diversity within the human condition. Sure, it’s possible to drive around in the cocoon of a car; but that’s an introduction to some of the nation’s worst stop and go traffic, maybe a road rage incident, and a shifting set of signs as new highways are built with tolls, conditions, and now roundabouts, too. Mass transit looks especially cheap when parking fees are $5/hour.

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So, use mass transit – maybe after a primer. Imagine the confusion one foreign visitor experienced when he didn’t know about how to pay (get your Orca card), or how to get to where he was going. He wandered about a transit center until another traveler pointed him to the right kiosk and map. Orca cards are handy, but not obviously tied to transit for folks not familiar with the area. Then, try to make sense of several bus, light rail, and even monorail systems; some above ground, some below. It’s all good, and easy to use with practice, but that first trip can be a test and a chore.

Pay. Beep. Settle in and trust to the relatively recent advance of on-bus electronic signage pointing out the next stop. Hope the announcement doesn’t get clipped halfway through. Fortunately, bus drivers are friendly enough and happy to say hello and help. Whew. Even they can have trouble with disappearing landmarks and convoluted routes, but they train every day. Oh yeah, and there are trains, too. Very handy – and another education.

After boarding, prepare for a cushy ride with nice seats, lights, and maybe even a luggage rack. Maybe you’ll have to give up your seat if the bus is crowded, but not always. There may even be elbow room. Don’t be surprised if you’re witness to a chance romantic encounter that includes cute flirting. Also don’t be surprised if someone is in a different kind of passionate communication, like someone speaking loudly into a phone counseling someone on how to respond when the police start asking questions. The human condition, on display.

Seattle’s metropolitan mass transit system can probably reach from Canada to Portland and beyond. Several systems interconnect and overlap. Impressive, considering the complexity. Even more impressive are the riders who navigate from this grid to that grid to home again.

The Island

Expensive? How about free? (At least for now.) No need for cards or cash or any of that stuff.

Complex? It’s a long-skinny island. There’s one main route, Island County Transit’s appropriately called Route 1. (Duh.) If that doesn’t take you where you want to go, one transfer will probably get you there. The system doesn’t cover the entire island, but no mass transit system does, not even Seattle’s Metro.

Bus stops. Yes. The bus stops. Along the major roads the bus stops at bus stops. Off the major roads don’t be surprised if the driver will drop or pick up people at their driveway, or job. They might even detour for special conditions like running a bit ahead of schedule, then realizing a mother and child would greatly appreciate not having to walk in the rain and wind. Take a hat to wave, or a light at night.

Parking. Park and Rides are popular, and frequently full. Why drive when you can ride for free? If you want a premier parking spot, there are a few lots; but expect rates like $5/day instead of the mainland’s $5/hour.

The human condition. That doesn’t change. Humans on the mainland and humans on the island are humans. Humans do sweet and silly and sometimes stupid things – including over-sharing. Just like everywhere else, earbuds edit the world.

Crossing the Moat

For those taking the ferries, welcome to the Washington State Ferry System, a cultural buffer that lets travelers breathe as they leave and return. Get ready with a twenty if you’re planning driving and a route trip ticket. Get ready with something more like a fiver if you’re walking. Add a buck or two if you’re taking your bicycle. For the fifteen minutes off the south end or the forty-five-ish minutes to the peninsula, sit, walk, stare, or sleep (hopefully without snoring). Maybe even get something to eat or drink. Of course, the Deception Pass Bridge gets around many of those issues; but that’s a bit of a detour for some.

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Then there’s amazing transition. Somehow the buses on both sides manage to match the ferries’ schedules making it a bit easier to let someone else do the driving. Just be prepared for a bit of a scoot to catch the bus or the train if the ferry is running a bit late.

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Also, don’t take the schedule for granted. A bus may wait while someone runs to catch it, but ferries can’t hit the brakes after they’ve closed the gate. Don’t worry. There’ll be another one. Just don’t miss the last boat of the night. Even the ferries need to take a break. You might just have to wait for the dawn. Ah, but then you get the sunrise as a consolation prize.

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