New ferry bill might kill Bremerton foot ferry

The fight for continued passenger-only ferry service is heating up in Olympia, and the Bremerton-to-Seattle run migh be a casualty.

Reps. Beverly Woods, R-Poulsbo, and Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, unveiled a bipartisan water transportation strategy before the House Transportation Committee last Friday.

They say the new POF strategy will continue state-run foot-ferry service at reduced levels on some runs, while expanding it to others, to avoid a complete shutdown on June 15.

“Washington State Ferries said it doesn’t have the money to continue the passenger-only ferry runs, so our focus has been on finding revenue,” Woods said Friday.

Rockefeller, vice chairman of the transportation committee, said he and Woods will continue to work toward a state solution even though ferry officials intend to cut the program in June.

The key component to the strategy, which hasn’t been formally unveiled in the Senate, would save POF service between Vashon and Seattle, add runs to Kingston and Southworth during peak times, and eliminate POF service between Bremerton and downtown Seattle.

The end of Bremerton service doesn’t sit well with the Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee.

“It seems like they are providing fast ferries to everyone under this plan except for Bremerton, and it doesn’t make sense,” said chairman Fred Chang. “They would add to Kingston and Southworth, and do nothing for Bremerton.”

Chang wondered at the reasoning, since he says more than 681,000 passengers hopped onto the Bremerton-Seattle route last year and only about 228,000 did so on the Vashon run.

Woods said ridership on the Bremerton-Seattle passenger route has slipped since the slow down of foot-ferry vessels in Rich Passage.

She said fare-box recovery hovers at a mere 27 percent, and a trip to Seattle on the passenger-only ferry is now only 10 minutes faster than a trip aboard the auto ferries.

Other components to the strategy:

l Directing the state to increase passenger-only operating costs paid by fares, through a combination of higher fares and lower operating costs, hopefully increasing fare box recovery rates from 27 percent to 40 percent. Proposals include providing POF during the heavy morning and afternoon commutes and eliminating two or three roundtrips a day. “Giving up the midday runs of the passenger-only ferries will save enough on labor and fuel to continue the trips our commuters need most,” Woods said.

l Endorsing most of WSF officials’ strategic business plan, which involves reducing costs by 5 percent, increasing fares by 5 percent and generating 5 percent in new revenue through advertising and marketing. Doing so is expected to fund two new auto ferries and one new passenger-only ferry.

l Looking for $234 million in new capital funding for 2003-13 for two additional auto ferries, one new foot-ferry vessel, terminal preservation projects and improvements.

Voter approval of Initiative 695 and, consequently, the Legislature’s elimination of the value-based car tab tax, removed the main source of capital revenue for ferries. Since I-695, no new source has been dedicated to replace the car-tab tax.

The ferry strategy unveiled Friday was drafted by a bipartisan team of House members which met about 15 times in the last six weeks.

The House Transportation Committee also approved three POF-related bills Friday.

“We are also taking sensible actions to prepare for the possibility that WSF simply won’t be able to continue running the boats,” Rockefeller said. The committee approved a measure prime-sponsored by Rockefeller that gives Kitsap Transit the go-ahead to seek voter approval to offer passenger-only ferry service in Puget Sound. A companion measure sponsored by Sen. Oke was approved by the Senate late last week.

A second measure approved by the committee, prime-sponsored by Woods, would exempt privately operated ferries from a rule that prohibits vessels from running within 10 miles of state ferries.

The third bill co-sponsored by Rockefeller provides the ferry system with more flexibility to enact its new business plan.

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