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Kitsap Transit wants in on foot ferry business

Kitsap Transit wants to fill the void in service for local commuters who have previously depended on the Washington State Ferries passenger-only service.

WSF is done specifically ferrying Kitsap passengers without their vehicles as of Sept. 19.

Auto-less commuters will have to ride the auto ferries along with all the drivers. Those boats take longer to cross the Sound — 60 minutes compared to 45, for example, on the Bremerton-Seattle runs.

The cutbacks are strictly financial, according to WSF officials. But those same officials said they will be selling the boats that plied Puget Sound, including the newest entries, the Chinook and the Snohomish, both less than 10 years old.

Trying to float into the breach is Kitsap Transit. But there’s a slight catch. Kitsap Transit needs public approval.

On July 18, “Yes! Kitsap Passenger-Only Ferries” sent out a countywide mailer seeking contributions to get the word out. Kitsap Transit wants to offer passenger-only service between Seattle and three Kitsap ports of call: Bremerton, Kingston and Southworth.

Kitsap Transit’s Board has placed a measure on the Nov. 4 ballot that, if approved, would fund the local transit company’s effort to have 14 boats taking Kitsapers to Seattle and back by 2004.

The boats Kitsap Transit would like to build are smaller (149-capacity compared to the Chinook and Snohomish’s 350-capacity), lighter (less wake), and potentially faster.

“We are currently working on design,” Kitsap Transit Service Development Director John Clauson said Monday. “They are not built yet. They will be 149-passenger and bow loading, which is critical to their success.

“The Chinook and Snohomish burn over 700 gallons of fuel an hour,” Clauson said. “These boats would burn between 125 and 150 gallons an hour. And bow loading accelerates the loading process. These boats would have a lower cost to operate.”

But to have these boats, Kitsapers will have to pay a $30 annual licensing fee on $10,000 vehicles and 3 cents in new taxes on every $10 they spend (food not included).

Asked if he is hearing any comments, pro or con, from the citizenry Kitsap Transit is asking to support a three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase and three-tenths of 1 percent hike on motor vehicle excise taxes to fund the passenger only ferries, Clauson is candid.

“I get both comments, pro and con,” he said. “The most common thing we hear from those opposed, is: ‘Why should I pay for it if I don’t even use it?’ My answer to that is there are a number of things we all support that I don’t use personally. It really is for the common good. I helped pay for the (new) jail and I hope I never use that.”

Kitsap Transit’s current ferry plans are an updated version of plans first developed in 1999, when WSF initially talked about getting out of the passenger-only ferry business.

“We took those plans and refined them from there,” Clauson said.

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