Opinion

Hard numbers needed, but idea is worth exploring | In Our Opinion

The state ferry Tacoma lost propulsion off Bainbridge’s shores on July 29, causing service delays in Bainbridge and Kingston and a shuffle of state ferries to restore some normalcy (at the cost of service to and from B.C.).

As the ferry lanes filled at Kingston, the mothballed Kingston Express sat at dock, a picture of irony.

It showed the risks we face in depending on one transportation link to get to and from the peninsula, and it showed the value of having an alternative system.

We have long supported the idea of having passenger ferry service out of Kingston. But after Kingston’s stop-and-go-and-stop experience with SoundRunner, Kitsap Transit’s proposed Kingston-Seattle passenger-only ferry may be a tough sell.

A consultant hired by Kitsap Transit said six round trips per day between Kingston and Seattle could draw an average of 543 riders. With two roundtrips a day, SoundRunner’s average ridership was 34 morning riders and 47 evening riders.

The total cost of operating SoundRunner for its two years of life was $1.02 million. Kingston port commissioners dropped the service after it became clear the port district would have to subsidize it for an indeterminate amount of time while ridership grew and fares closed the revenue gap. SoundRunner service ended on Sept. 28, 2012.

At the time, Kingston port commissioners said a passenger-only ferry service needed a subsidy to give it time to build ridership and commuter trust — a tax-supported subsidy that an agency like Kitsap Transit could provide. Now, port commissioners have gotten their wish — the serious interest of Kitsap Transit. But Kitsap Transit is going to need some hard ridership and revenue numbers if it’s going to win voter approval.

We believe passenger-ferry service between Kingston and Seattle is a good service to have. Over time, it would draw visitors from Seattle to Kingston. We have the infrastructure in place to accommodate passenger ferry service. Port Townsend’s service was expected to begin this year, and getting Kingston on the schedule should be pursued.

A passenger-only ferry service could be a vital part of the region’s transportation network and efforts to reduce our need to drive in order to get to our destination. Take a 25-minute state ferry ride and you’re on an Amtrak train, a Sounder commuter train, or a Community Transit bus. Or walk onto a passenger-only ferry and step off into downtown Seattle.

Likewise for mainland travelers: Take a bus or train to Edmonds and then a scenic ferry ride to Kingston and all the natural and commercial amenities we know and love. Or just walk onto the passenger-only ferry at Colman Dock and step off at the Port of Kingston.

A passenger-only ferry could also be employed to provide service to and from Edmonds in emergencies.

We have to ensure that message is out there: Ease of travel and easy to get to. We’d suggest a promotional partnership between the Kingston and Edmonds chambers of commerce, each of them gateways to their regions.

Since SoundRunner folded, one of SoundRunner’s boats was sold. Another sits at the port’s dock, waiting to be put back into service.

 

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