Kitsap Transit resurrects free paper transfers — for now

Kitsap Transit heard the call of its low-income riders and will return to paper transfers by May 1.

After meeting with social services groups since paper transfers were discontinued last year, Kitsap Transit board members, officials and drivers said the lack of paper transfers burdened low-income riders who could not obtain an ORCA card and could not afford an additional $2 for each bus transfer. The Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners approved the reinstatement of the transfers at its Tuesday board meeting.

Bus driver Suzanne Chinick said many drivers have been allowing some riders at least one free connection to help them make their trips.

"A lot of people can't afford it," Chinick said. "It's really cut ridership down."

Kitsap Transit bus driver Mark Dawson said that without the paper transfers, riders without an ORCA card pay $8 to $10 to travel across the county, keeping people away from school, jobs and shopping.

Kitsap Transit stopped using the paper transfers to create an incentive for riders to buy the ORCA card. It costs Kitsap Transit $10,000 per year to print the paper tickets that end up being thrown in the trash shortly after they are issued, said Kitsap Transit Service Development Director John Clauson.

Chinick said that despite the costs of the paper, the decreased ridership without it makes the ORCA-only plan more costly than the paper system.

ORCA cards can be purchased online with a credit or debit card, or in person at the Bremerton Transportation Center. But not every rider has Internet access or can make it to the Transportation Center. A group of people who attended a meeting with the Salvation Army about a month ago made that clear.

"We heard a lot of people say at that meeting that not having those paper transfers was a hardship to them," Bremerton City Councilman Will Maupin, vice chairman of the board, said earlier in the week. "I definitely sympathize with those people and came away from that meeting convinced that we need to find some solution."

The solution, albeit temporary, is to reinstate the paper transfers starting May 1 through the end of the year. By then, Kitsap Transit hopes more people will have purchased an ORCA card for free transfers, and ORCA purchasing stations will be available at every Safeway store in the county.

"The intention is to give them more time to get their ORCA card," Clauson said, adding that he also hopes social service agencies can develop a way to help low-income or homeless people ride the bus.

Maupin said the temporary fix is not enough.

"We're still always going to have inconveniences," he said, adding that Kitsap Transit needs more innovative solutions that make it easy for visitors and frequent riders alike to get on a bus. "We need to be customer-oriented."

Dawson said the riders' problems will only return after the temporary paper transfer system ends.

"It's going to be a very passenger-unfriendly cash fare system," he said.

In addition to the Bremerton Transportation Center, the two other places where Kitsap residents can currently buy an ORCA card in person are the Kingston IGA and the Bainbridge Island Safeway.

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