Will Money Grinch steal foot ferries?

By June 15, 2003, Washington State Ferries wants to shut down passenger-only ferry services from Bremerton and Vashon to downtown Seattle — routes that combined carried nearly one million passengers this year.

The proposal, floated Wednesday by WSF Director Mike Thorne at a state Transportation Commission meeting, is an effort to maintain and bolster its fleet, despite a disappointing turn in state transportation funding.

With the repeal of the value-based motor vehicle excise tax in spring 2000 and the recent failure of Referendum 51, ferry officials have been forced to seek a funding solution.

“We looked at all available options and, in the end, made some tough, but necessary decisions,” Thorne said in a prepared statement.

WSF officials hope funds saved could be used to reinvest in the system including building replacement vessels.

“We have four boats that need to be retired,” said WSF spokeswoman Pat Patterson.

Patterson said WSF has tried to find a process to live within its means.

“It’s a cold, hard reality and we’re going to own the problem and solve it,” she said.

Thorne said when crafting the proposal, in part to end POF service, ferry officials tried to leave commuters with options. The overall WSF proposal would not affect about 95 percent of the entire system’s riders and commuters.

Thorne’s proposal also involves discontinuing the 1 a.m. departure from Edmonds to Kingston on Friday and Saturday nights and continuing the schedule modifications and reduced fuel costs on the Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry route that began this fall.

The proposed route changes and the discontinuation of POF service could save about $6 million annually, officials said.

The WSF plan, which overall could save the ferries nearly $7.7 million, is not a done deal.

It is still subject to legislative review and and public input.

“This has been in the air for some time,” said Fred Chang, chairman of the Bremerton Ferry Advisory Board. “In a sense, it’s actually nice to finally find out how bad the news really was.”

Chang says he wants to keep track of the public input process, and is concerned the proposal appears so extreme.

“It’s as if we either have them all or none,” he said. “Why not go back to 1996 levels where we just had one passenger ferry out of Bremerton?”

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