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Bremerton foot ferries might be docked

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,” said Thorne 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 alone 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?”

The POFs are vulnerable since their operations require a large state subsidy. For every $1 of revenue the passenger-only service brings in, WSF spends $6 to keep the service running.

Chang is hopeful the City of Bremerton may provide assistance in the future.

“With the status of state Department of Transportation funding and the failure of Referendum 51, I am not surprised by this,” said State Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton.

Sheldon is encouraged Kitsap Transit Executive Director Richard Hayes is exploring providing POF service from those terminals.

Thorne is also supportive of such a plan.

“I hope Kitsap Transit will be the white knight in all of this,” Chang said.

Ending passenger ferries in Kitsap is not all the change proposed by Thorne.

He also suggested a winter schedule from January to late March that could save the system $400,000 annually.

During that 12-week period, several services would be curtailed to Sidney, B.C.; inter-island services in the San Juans; the 6:35 p.m. round-trip from Anacortes to Lopez, Shaw and Orcas, Monday through Thursday and on Saturdays; on select Port Townsend/Keystone routes; and on certain Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth routes on winter weekends.

WSF also wants to place two vessels on stand-by status, saving the system another $1.25 million annually. Plans also include retiring the Hiyu, the Nisqually and the five passenger-only vessels by June 2005.

Another phase to the proposed strategy, to take affect from 2005 through 2013, includes the construction and delivery of two new vessels, the retirement of four more auto ferries, relocating the Keystone ferry terminal and ending international service from Anacortes to Sidney, B.C.

WSF could also explore during

that time moving Vashon Island and Southworth traffic from Fauntleroy to downtown Seattle, and moving the Eagle Harbor maintenance facility on Bainbridge Island to a different site.

Also at the meeting, the Transportation Commission blessed WSF’s 5 percent fare increase next year, 5 percent in cost reductions and a 5 percent increase in additional revenue streams.

The proposed 5 percent fare increase is a drop from the 10 percent originally proposed by a state blue ribbon commission.

Any fare increases must still be approved following a public hearing process next year.

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