Port has faith in SoundRunner ferry

KINGSTON — The Port of Kingston has faith that the community can keep SoundRunner afloat. With a 2-to-1 vote at Monday evening's Board of Commissioners meeting, SoundRunner has been given a reprieve at least until Sept. 30.

"This time yesterday I was still on the fence," said Commissioner Pete DeBoer, around noon on Tuesday. He said he knew from his business background that start-ups need time to work out the kinks. He and Commissioner Walt Elliott voted to continue the service, while Commissioner Marc Bissonnette voted to discontinue as of May 31.

The commissioners also voted to use $200,000 of port money, allocated for the foot ferry service in 2013, to sustain the service for the next five months. DeBoer said the way the ferry runs now, SoundRunner would need about $300,000 to continue service.

"But we don't intend to stay at the status quo," he said. Increasing ridership is their best option — with a growing and consistent ridership, the port is able to receive transportation grants from the state and federal governments, as well as support from the state Legislature, according to Port Manager Kori Henry.

She agreed with DeBoer, and said the service needs more time to sort out schedules, so everyone is served.

"If we have longevity, it will give [commuters] the opportunity to change to us," she said.

The port laid out SoundRunner's troubles at a special meeting last week. The passenger ferry system is expected to use its $200,000 subsidy from the port, earmarked for 2012, by the end of April at the current expense rate. The port has spent $641,536 since May 2011 on the SoundRunner service. In the first three months of 2012, it has grossed an income of $76,224.

SoundRunner operates on the port budget and grant funding, but commissioners said their next concern is to find an outside source of money. Last week, Bissonnette proposed a bond, but said the port district is too small for a vote that would affect riders around North Kitsap and some in Jefferson County.

Henry said they are going to be marketing, from a grassroots level, more aggressively. Business owners approached Henry at the commission meeting, offering to help spread the word, and DeBoer said he has been talking with local businesses and community groups to encourage their support.

SoundRunner does have commuter competition: the Washington State Ferries offers a free ride over to Seattle, from Edmonds or Bainbridge Island, and the SounderTrain from Edmonds to Seattle is $3 a trip. SoundRunner now offers $5 fares, down from $7, and van pools from the park-and-ride at George's Corner.

"Just hop on our boat one evening and see how easy it is to get home," DeBoer said.



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