Pain at the pump: North Kitsap goes alternative

POULSBO — By now any North Kitsap resident with a set of wheels is certainly aware of the skyrocketing prices found at the pump.

With a gallon of regular gasoline inching ever closer to the $4 mark, the sting of refueling for many is worse than ever.

So much so, in fact, several modes of alternative transportation have increased in popularity in the North End. From bus riding to telecommuting, cash-saving options are on the rise, swooping in to save the day — or at least save the checkbooks — of those giving change a try.

Getting on the bus

Using bus services throughout North Kitsap has become one way residents are coping with painful pump costs.

“We actually have seen an increase in the ridership,” said John Clauson, services development director for Kitsap Transit.

He said county-wide January numbers have been up 5 percent, some routes as far up as 11 percent, and the rise in riders is a trend the transit agency expects to continue.

“As the ridership indicates, I think people are now starting to stop and realize how much they are spending on gasoline,” he said.

When it comes to the cost of a gallon of gasoline ringing in at $3.55 and above, the $1.25 bus fare is looking brighter in comparison, and while many could easily be spending close to $100 or more on gas each month, a monthly transit pass costs just $31.50, a much easier pill to swallow.

But in an adverse turn, Clauson said Kitsap Transit, too, is stuck between a gas pump and a hard place.

“Ironically, we’re faced with the same problem that the commuters are faced with,” he said. “These rising fuel prices are affecting us and our abilities as well.”

He said Tuesday the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners began preliminary discussion on ways to save money — possibly by cutting services — even in the face of increasing rider demand. The inflating fuel pump price tags are hitting them as well, despite the fact they purchase gasoline in bulk through a state contract that exempts them from some taxes.

Kitsap Transit goes through 1 million gallons of gasoline a year. Clauson said though they budgeted conservatively, they expected to be facing $2.70 per gallon prices. Instead, it’s risen 54 cents higher.

“The last load that we recieved was $3.24 a gallon,” he said. “It’s considerably higher than what we had estimated it to be.”

Clauson said some transit trips have begun to reach vehicle capacity, something which does happen periodically and is usually considered a good problem for the agency to have. But he said whereas in the past they have been able to provide higher service levels for routes with upping ridership, “we’ve reached a point where we can’t respond like we used to.”

Making the most of the drive

For those still at the wheel, swapping out larger vehicles for smaller, more fuel economic cars has become another popular solution to gas price escalation.

Rene Sotolongo, internet and marketing director for Liberty Bay Auto, said the heavier-sized vehicles, including diesels, having been boomeranging back to the car lots.

“The big trucks are coming in on trade,” he said. “Sales of larger SUVs and large-type trucks are on the decline.”

At Liberty Bay Auto, they’ve coined the term ‘Gas Pump Psychology,’ which Sotolongo said is a way to describe the common mentality buyers bring to the car shopping process.

A car or truck’s miles to the gallon capability is often the first topic on their mind.

Sotolongo said many are either purchasing their third cars as alternatives to the larger vehicles they own or are exchanging bigger vehicles for easier-on-the-pocketbook “commuter cars.”

Many times, however, the difference isn’t all that substantial.

“A lot of times the savings that they’re getting is less than two miles per gallon,” he said.

There are other tricks drivers can try to help make car commuting efforts a real ease when it comes to fueling up.

For example, he said minivans and SUVs with optional third row seating can get better gas mileage if those superfluous seats are removed, taking out unneeded weight. Another helpful hint is keeping cars clean.

“Believe it or not, if you were to scrape all that dust and dirt off and carry it in a bag, that would be an extra 10-15 pounds alone,” Sotolongo said.

He also added when it comes to hybrid vehicles — which combine normal fuel propulsion with rechargeable electric energy — they are currently a pricey option, as inventory is highly limited. But come late this year, he expects the market to boom with availability, as several car companies, including those that specialize in SUVs, are planning new hybrid options.

Join the cycling craze

When it comes to downgrading from four wheels to two, Silverdale Cyclery Manager Jason Mathews said there’s been a definite upswing in biking in the area, one noticeable both in the cycling shop and on the street.

He said the number of commuters coming in to buy has risen, and even looking at an unloading ferry can be a sign of the increasing number of those turning to bikes.

Aside from the money saved when in comes to gasoline, riding to work is also a plus in the health column.

“Getting on a bike and riding a half an hour to work, you’re going to burn anywhere from 300-500 calories,” he said.

He himself downsized, trading in a car commute for daily biking. He said he’s seen a noticeable difference in the money saved each month and improved health.

Mathews added though the Kitsap area can seem difficult to navigate via bicycle, there are plenty of safe routes that make the trip feasible, and Silverdale Cyclery can help new bikers locate them.

Commute on the Web

Telecommuting, too, has become an increasingly popular alternative to the usual daily drive. The Kitsap Telework Pilot Project was earmarked $150,000 in the state’s transportation budget during the recent legislative session, and the study will be managed by the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.

Poulsbo City Council Member Ed Stern, a major proponent of telecommuting, said the from-home option not only saves when it comes to gasoline, but helps alleviate wear and tear on roadways and bridges, allows for more family time for employees and decreases pollution.

Stern said the study — though an initial expense for the state — is truly seen as a way to save, and Kitsap is leading the trend. A unique population center where rising gas costs, unreliable, costly ferry boats and bridge tolls hold “our commuting workers captive,” Kitsap will now host the project that is meant to deliver valuable telecommuting information to the other 38 counties in the state.

“We will be the leader not only in Washington in but in the Pacific Northwest,” Stern said. “We need to embrace the future and Kitsap has been slated by the state of Washington to lead the way.”

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