Opinion

SoundRunner is a good deal … But can it succeed?

The Kingston Port District is hoping some new initiatives will help turn the financial tide for the SoundRunner passenger ferry. One resident says his marketing firm studied SoundRunner and determined that it’s doomed. A Herald reporter, who also lives in Kingston, says the service is a good deal for consumers. Here are their views.

 

WSF HAS THE COMPETITIVE EDGE
By Ed Waterman | Guest columnist

Time for the truth about the Kingston SoundRunner ferry to be disclosed to the residents of Kingston.

When we heard SoundRunner was going to hand out a $70,000 marketing contract, my marketing firm expressed interest. We do market research and help businesses craft and implement successful business and marketing plans against strong, well-funded competitors.

It took us less than three hours of due diligence to determine SoundRunner was fatally flawed from startup as a high overhead service launched in the Great Recession against formidable, entrenched competitors. We concluded SoundRunner didn’t have just a 100 percent chance of failure, we quickly determined SoundRunner would incur the catastrophic financial losses we are seeing.

Why you ask? SoundRunner has no fewer than eight major strategic and competitive flaws. Saying WSF vs. SoundRunner is apples and oranges is a myth. SoundRunner is simply a cross-Sound transportation option and competes directly against the Kingston/Edmonds WSF, Bainbridge/Seattle WSF, Tacoma Narrows Bridge and shuttle services to SeaTac Airport. Those four had decades of market dominance and held 100 percent market share — a market share that SoundRunner had to take in a direct competition by doing it cheaper and requiring a marketing budget that exceeded that of its entrenched competitors.

After interviewing Kingston residents as we would a focus group, the demographics claimed as “potential” by SoundRunner were shocking. Most people we talked to told us the same thing — why do we want to go to Seattle? Residents of Kingston live here, and many moved here from Seattle because they consider Seattle a big city with high crime and horrendous traffic. It is a place they avoid. Many said the SoundRunner boat is nauseating, too small of a boat compared to the stable car ferries of WSF. The vast majority that travel to Seattle need a car. For $10 more than parking and SoundRunner, they have a car on WSF to reach their destination.

SoundRunner doesn’t go where many Kingston commuters go — to the hubs of Naval Base Everett, Boeing, the Eastside, the industrial sectors and the UW. Connections to transportation are a grueling 10-block walk uphill to the bus tunnel.

Casual visitors are headed to sporting events and SeaTac Airport. SoundRunner doesn’t run when the sporting events happen and they definitely do not sail to SeaTac.

The two WSF runs offer more than 40 daily Eastbound sailings, FREE for walk-on passengers. You can’t beat free with $7 a trip and just four sailings.The reality is Port of Kingston SoundRunner has zero chance of success (measured by ridership and revenue) and WILL incur millions of dollars in financial losses. The average SoundRunner Eastbound sailing has fewer than 10 riders paying $14 round trip, while Kingston taxpayers pay $100 — for every rider, every run, day after day. The only certainty is whether $1 million in losses is where it stops or if it will lose millions more. I have commuted from Kingston to Seattle for 22 years. There is no positioning or amount spent on SoundRunner marketing that can overcome the eight fatal competitive advantages held by the state Department of Transportation.

— Ed Waterman is CEO of Prodigy Marketing Group in Kingston.

 

SOUNDRUNNER HAS ITS ADVANTAGES
By Kipp Robertson | Herald reporter

The Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show has become an (almost) annual tradition for me. Unless I’m working, I enjoy spending a few (or 10) hours over at the Seattle convention center to play some coin-operated games, most circa before I was born.

There's never a problem getting over there, but it's always an expensive trip. Or, should I say, it was an expensive trip. But not this year, with the SoundRunner ferry service.

Now, before continuing, I will note I live about one mile from the Kingston port. A quick walk. A relatively small number of people have that option. I took my first ride on the Spirit of Kingston, one of two ferries under the service, June 9. This was not long after the ferry began doing Saturday runs for $5 each way.

Walking down the dock, the ferry was clearly rocking in its moored state. How rough was this ride going to be, I thought. Will I have to eat another breakfast once I arrive in Seattle, after losing my first at sea? Fortunately, the answer was no.

The ride was smooth. It was also a very calm day on the Puget Sound. So I cannot speak for the service when the sea is angry.

It was quick, too. We departed at 10 a.m. and arrived before 11 a.m.

The crew was friendly. Never have I been on a ferry and had a crew member ask if I wanted a refill on my coffee. The coffee and tea is free, by the way.

The scenery, like everywhere else on a water-vessel in Washington, was beautiful.

Arriving at Pier 50, just south of the Washington State Ferry terminal, I had already saved $11.50. And from there I set off, on foot, to Seattle Center.

The arcade show was a blast, but it's not relevant. I left the show just after 5 p.m. to make it to the dock about 15 minutes before the ferry departed.

The ferry pulled up, unloaded, and we were headed back to Kingston. Though the beer selection is not expansive, it’s better quality than I expected — Deschutes Brewery's Pale Ale, thank you.

I was lucky enough to spend a portion of the ride on the stern of the boat when the sun came out. Two sea lions had a similar idea and decided to sunbathe on a buoy.

The ride back was just as quick. The crew, the same as my trip to Seattle, just as friendly.

As the ferry docked, it was impressive to see just how agile the ferry was, turning 180 degrees to reverse to the dock.

The riders all expressed their gratitude as they left; not a frown among the easily more than one dozen riders.

If there was any complaint I had after using the SoundRunner service, it is this: the service hours are not flexible enough on Saturday runs. The ferry leaves Kingston and 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and Seattle at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

A 6 p.m. return is much too early for a final run. There is no chance to enjoy Seattle nightlife, or catch dinner or a movie. Basically, so much of what makes Seattle appealing — I’m speaking from a 26-year-old’s point-of-view — is eliminated.

In order to see a later run from Seattle, either a new schedule or more ridership will be needed. More ridership … haven't heard that before.  But it's difficult to be disappointed, because I saved more than $30 by not having to pay for a vehicle and driver to and from Kingston, parking or gas. Cha-ching.

— Kipp Robertson is education and sports writer for the North Kitsap Herald.

 

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