Kingston Port Commission says there's no SoundRunner ultimatum

KINGSTON — The Port of Kingston is not considering shutting the SoundRunner passenger ferry service down for the season, according to commission chairman Marc Bissonnette.

“We’re in it for the long haul now,” he said.

At last month’s port commission meeting, when approximately 20 residents voiced a majority opinion to continue the ferry, commissioners agreed the port would continue to subsidize SoundRunner and would reevaluate at a Dec. 20 meeting.

Many residents, however, saw that as an ultimatum — either SoundRunner has the goal number of regular passengers (around 65 a month), or the port would shut the service down.

Bissonnette said that isn’t what was on the table. He originally suggested the ferry be seasonal — “based on my [25 years] experience in the industry, all ferries have seasonality” — but publicly, residents were against that.

Bissonnette and commissioner Pete DeBoer said Dec. 20 will be an evaluation date — partly based on ridership, and partly based on the revenue generated by joining the ORCA, or One Regional Card for All, system.

“It will be the day that we can collect the best data over the past six months and see where we are and make decisions on the future,” DeBoer wrote in a letter to the Herald. “We will also have had a chance to sample some of the stormy weather that frequents the Northwest in November.”

Bissonnette said SoundRunner will begin accepting ORCA Nov. 1, but it will take time for local employers to sign up for the system. He also said what will help revenue is returning to core services. Promotions like Seahawk games and charter cruises are programs for later in a ferry’s life; now is the time to focus on commuters.

“We’ve got great [workers] on the boat, great regular customers. We’re heading into a good place right now,” he said.

The commission also agreed to survey the community about the future of SoundRunner. The Passenger-Only Ferry Advisory Committee, made up of 10 local residents, will assist in forming the questions and returning the results to the Port, according to chairman Jerry Kirschner.

“2012 is going to be a significant year for SoundRunner,” Kirschner said. “We support the [Port’s] decision that we need to keep an eye on the costs, there has to be some balance there. On the other hand, this is an investment for a significant, strategic asset for the community.”

Bissonnette said the “burn rate” of SoundRunner — how much it costs versus revenue — seems to be coming down, and they hope to have a “sustainability curve” by January.

“When 37.5 cents of gas tax on every gallon we buy locally goes to projects with very little attention paid to Kitsap County, I feel comfortable trying to get some of that money brought back here for citizens and projects like SoundRunner,” DeBoer said.

Kori Henry is doubling as Port project manager and SoundRunner program manager, since the departure of Meisha Rouser.


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