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SoundRunner gets a boost from special events; port still pursuing ORCA card for commuters

A SoundRunner passenger ferry approaches Kingston July 6.  - Tad Sooter
A SoundRunner passenger ferry approaches Kingston July 6.
— image credit: Tad Sooter

KINGSTON — The Port of Kingston’s SoundRunner passenger ferry is in uncharted waters.

In its sixth week, the ferry has passed its own mark for continuous service, topping the five weeks it ran during its troubled startup last fall.

The approach of SoundRunner staff is noticeably different since the service relaunched May 31, Hansville commuter Michael Szerlog said Wednesday.

“Much more professional,” Szerlog said. “They seem to have it together.”

Szerlog is among about 20 passengers riding the ferry to Seattle daily for work. The number is well short of the 100 the service will need to break even, but ridership is creeping up.

“It’s slowly growing,” commuter Alfred Darby, a new Kingston resident, said Wednesday. “I think it’s a matter of getting the word out.”

SoundRunner General Manager Meisha Rouser agrees.

“It’s just getting people to try it,” she said. “It’s getting them to break out of their routine and give it a try.”

Outreach has been Rouser’s focus this summer. The port has planted advertisements on busy roads across North Kitsap. Staff and volunteers are visiting community groups and recently traveled to Port Townsend to pitch the service to Jefferson County residents.

Special-event trips have helped raise the service’s profile. SoundRunner staff have organized monthly midday trips to Seattle. The ferry will carry fans to a Mariners game and a Sounders FC game in July, and a cruise to Port Ludlow. A schedule is listed at www.soundrunnerferry.com.

A trip to Liberty Bay for 3rd of July fireworks sold out quickly, attracting about 120 riders.

“It went really well,” Rouser said.

SoundRunner still faces a big challenge with regard to attracting commuters.

The service is not yet a member of ORCA Card, a regional transit fare system that allows riders to pay for ferry, bus and train fares with one card. ORCA is popular with employers because they can subsidize their employees’ commutes without having to deal with multiple agencies.

The card is important to many commuters. A survey of Kitsap Transit customers commuting to the Bainbridge ferry from North Kitsap found that 98 percent use ORCA, Rouser said. The port considered joining ORCA as an independent agency before realizing the cost would be massive, Port of Kingston Commissioner Pete DeBoer said.

Now the port is negotiating to join the program using Kitsap Transit as an umbrella agency. The port paid Kitsap Transit $5,600 to get an estimate on the cost of joining. It hopes to have the estimate in the next few weeks.

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