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Kitsap Transit’s Hayes wants new agency for POF, rapid buses

Board says long-range plan should focus on restoring bus service first.

In the long-range plan he presented to the Kitsap Transit Board of Directors on Tuesday, Executive Director Dick Hayes envisions creating a separate transit agency that will focus on passenger-only ferries (POFs) and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

Calling it a “High-Capacity Transit agency,” Hayes said its mission would be to support Kitsap County’s economic development and manage its growth by improving its transportation connections both with Seattle and within the county by utilizing ferries, buses and HOV lanes.

“It’s all about accommodating the population without destroying the quality (of life) we have now,” Hayes said, explaining the long-range plan was created as a response to the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2040, which predicts the county will have as many as 150,000 more people in 30 years.

The most cost-effective and sustainable way to accommodate that growth, he said, is to “augment the Washington State Ferries service (with passenger-only ferries) as well as (with) BRT in the core areas.”

Hayes described BRT as a “set of transit and land-use strategies that can provide many of the benefits of light-rail at a fraction of the cost,” and include giving buses separate lanes with intersection preference, using larger, multi-door buses that run lower to the ground at much higher frequencies and with limited stops.

Supporting the buses would be a network of mixed-use Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) and large park-and-ride lots that would be designed to encourage county residents to get out of their cars and onto mass transit.

As for ferries, Hayes sees POF service leaving Kingston, Bremerton and Southworth to Seattle, and the separate agency would not operate the services, but contract them out.

When Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade asked if the plan was to create an agency separate from Kitsap Transit, Hayes said, “Sort of.”

He explained, “There will not be another administration with a separate Human Resources or Finance departments, but it will have a separate focus, and has to be a separate agency from a financial point of view.”

Bremerton City Councilman Will Maupin said the plan sounded “reasonable,” but he was concerned about creating a separate agency and what its focus would be.

“We get a lot of criticism for spending too much time on passenger-only ferries, and not enough on buses,” Maupin said. “But I think creating a whole new agency would be a bad idea also.”

Hayes said if a separate agency is created, it would have access to more money, both new “pots” of money that Kitsap Transit can’t access and “existing pots of money that it can access as a separate entity.”

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola described the plan as “Sound Transit Lite,” and warned Hayes he will be “accused of empire-building even more so than in the past.”

Calling it “predictable,” North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer also expressed disappointment in the plan.

“I was really hoping we would have an honest-to-goodness strategic-planning process, one that talked about how to move people,” said Bauer, pointing out that van pools, which he said were very cost-effective, were not part of the plan.

Bauer also said he hoped the long-range plan would have focused on “making the agency and its services healthy before we launch a new POF service. That’s not as important to me as restoring bus service.”

He said, “Voters are not going to be really crazy about creating another taxing agency,” and in his opinion, the limited amount of funds available to government agencies would be better spent on other services.

“If I was asked to choose between finding money to launch a new transit agency or finding money to re-hire some of the deputy sheriffs we just laid off,” Bauer said, “I know which one I’d choose.”

Coppola described the plan as “a good starting point,” but said he wanted to see the agency focus instead on restoring services like ACCESS.

“We sat here and heard all the people telling us, ‘Help, this is my life here,’” he said. “I don’t see high-capacity as this agency’s mission, and as far as POF, I see the residents’ response as ‘What part of ‘no’ don’t you get? We’ve told you twice: No.’”

Hayes also described the plan as a “starting point,” and said now he and his staff would “take two or three steps backward” and rework the plan.

“I am not offended or upset, I really agree with these points,” he said, adding he hoped to be able to meet with the board either every month or every two months, separate from the regular business meetings, to discuss and formulate the long-range plan. “We’re at a really interesting place, and we really have the time now to work on this.”

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