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Foot ferry has a positive start

KINGSTON — For the first time, the passengers stepping on to the foot ferry that was docked in Kingston Thursday morning weren’t there for a demonstration run to Seattle.

Most of them were commuters, going to work in the big city, just like they would if they were taking the Bainbridge Island ferry.

In fact, many of these commuters were veterans of the Bainbridge Island routine. But private ferry company Aqua Express hopes those riders will soon change their minds about which boat they’ll take from now on.

After a year of public meetings, surveys, permit applications, construction deadlines and pushed back startup dates, Aqua Express has everything in place to officially start Kingston’s first passenger-only service Jan. 18. However, general manager Brian Grantham and his crew gave commuters a taste of what the ferry has to offer with free rides Thursday and Friday. An open house is also scheduled from 1-4 p.m. today at the Aqua Express dock in the Port of Kingston.

“We really want to take this,” said Kingston resident and commuter Brian Smith. He and his wife Molly Stacy have been taking the Bainbridge Island ferry since they moved to Kingston five years ago, completing three-hour round trip commutes during the week to Seattle and back. They moved to Kingston in anticipation of Washington State Ferries establishing a foot ferry in the mid-1990s, as did many others who moved to the area within the past decade.

But when Initiative 695 passed in 1999, funding was pulled for such services. At the same time, Kingston residents and business owners Tom Waggoner, Sonny Woodward, Kathleen Sutton and Billie Johnson were spearheading the effort to get some sort of fast ferry service started. Eventually, after a failed referendum and a failed proposal for ferry service with Kitsap Transit and lack of funding sources, the private guys stepped up.

“It was just eight or nine years ago, talking about putting together the first demonstration day,” Woodward said, adding that they were working with Clipper Navigation at the time, which is now one of the Aqua Express partners. “Little did they know they were going to be a big part of the future. It’s been a long journey.”

While the cost of Aqua Express service is double the cost of taking a state ferry, money is not an object for Hansville resident Scott Masengill.

“Yesterday, my commute round trip took four hours,” he said. “Today, two hours. I spend more money but I get two hours of my life back.”

Masengill’s neighbor Christi Massi isn’t happy with the $3 surcharge for bicycles, on top of the $5.25 passenger toll, as she feels that it could discourage an environmentally-friendly way to travel besides using the ferry.

“There is a big porch on the back of the boat and the state ferry made it work... Maybe they’re afraid they’ll be inundated (with bikes),” she said.

Masengill said he also would like to see a 5:30 p.m. ferry run from Seattle to Kingston, because of the logistics of either having to leave work early or late to catch a ferry.

“It doesn’t accommodate an eight-hour work day with a lunch break,” he said.

Currently, the sailing times from Kingston to Seattle are 5:30 a.m., 7:10 a.m., 8:50 a.m., 3:50 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. The times from Seattle to Kingston are 6:20 a.m., 8 a.m., 3 p.m., 4:40 p.m. and 6:20 p.m.

The 5:30 a.m. trip had approximately 40 people on there and it was nearly double that for the 7:10 a.m. trip Thursday morning, said Aqua Express General Manager Brian Grantham.

While he noticed people were enjoying the service, they were also studying to see if the new schedule will work for them. Kitsap Transit has also adjusted its morning and afternoon bus schedules to accommodate the foot ferry sailings and can be viewed at www.kitsaptransit.org. The Port Of Kingston is also encouraging people to not park at the port, but to utilize the transit system or use the Kiss N’ Ride lot, which is located where The Restaurant At The Dock used to be.

Aqua Express’ boat, the old Washington State Ferry Tyee, has been outfitted with new seats, the interior has been reorganized to make it easier to get around and there will be food and drinks will be available for purchase. For more information, go to www.aqua-express.com.

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