In 2012 while working with talented, service minded folks at the Senior Center in Friday Harbor we struggled to develop a concept labeled Friends and Neighbors. It offered in-home services to allow Islanders to continue living independently as they aged or could no longer drive. We endeavored to match needy seniors with younger volunteers who could check-in regularly and assist with shopping household chores and running errands. With a third of its residents over 65, San Juan County should offer essential transportation to its elders and others who do not drive.
Retired veteran, Bob Reilly appeared on the scene and helped put together a non-profit company organized as San Juan Islands Shuttle System to provide transportation to our Friends and Neighbors around the Town and eventually all three primary islands, The concept of volunteer drivers with a donated economy car and fundraising to pay for insurance, fuel and maintenance is the essence of a successful program. Riders loved the simple system and ride volume grew from 1500 rides in 2013 to 8,389 in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has kept many vulnerable people at home but they still need deliveries of groceries, medication and other necessities.
Well used donated Nissan Leaf cars and three new, extended-range Leaf SV plus models brought the fleet up to six vehicles this year on three ferry-served islands. A ready pool of over 20 drivers have volunteered to staff the cars on a daily series of rides and deliveries for our neighbors and friends. Local civic clubs and social services agencies on the three islands are now supporting this solution as well as the County and State DOT. The original vision of free ride services on the most populous islands is now reality.