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Foot ferry may have low wake and no money | Bob Meadows

Kitsap Transit will test its new passenger only ferry to see if it’s possible to go through Rich Passage quickly without causing unacceptable beach erosion.

The five-month test period set to run from June through October should show whether the low-wake design efforts have been successful, but then the next question is whether it is financially feasible to run the POF between Bremerton and Seattle.

Beach erosion caused by previous POF service — along with lack of funding — put an end to earlier POF runs. The wakes from fast ferries had too great an impact on the shoreline, and slower runs couldn’t collect enough fare revenue.

Even if there had been no problem with beach erosion, the service probably couldn’t have continued without raising taxes to pay the difference between revenue from riders’ fares and the costs.

During the test period, there will be passengers on board, and they will be paying fares that have yet to be determined.

The Kitsap Transit board will probably set the fares at its April 17 meeting, so anyone wanting to offer a comment has until April 16 to submit it for the board’s consideration.

It would be nice to learn how many riders would pay to use the POF rather than the Washington State Ferry (WSF) run between the two cities. The two would necessarily compete for riders.

This competition for riders probably puts a limit on the fares that Kitsap Transit could charge for its POF, since anyone wanting to go between Bremerton and Seattle could avoid an unacceptably high POF fare by riding the state’s ferry.

The POF may be able to make the run in about a half hour rather than the state ferry’s time of almost an hour, so one would think that POF riders would be willing to pay a little more to save their time.

How much more they would pay is hard to say, but it’s an important bit of information. Any costs not paid by users would have to be paid by taxpayers who aren’t riding the POF.

The fare proposal being considered by the board would merely price the POF close to the state ferry’s fare, since the point of the test period is to see what wake damage may result from a POF that isn’t empty.

People who would ordinarily ride the state ferry could choose a quicker ride at little or no additional cost, so it seems likely that few POF runs would lack passengers — at least, not in the direction of the normal daily commute.

Since the WSF only collects payments from “foot” passengers going from Seattle to Bremerton, any fare collected by Kitsap Transit’s POF for the ride to Seattle would make the POF compete with a free ride on the state ferry.

Most people who travel on the ferries without an automobile make a round trip, so the WSF practice of collecting what amounts to a round-trip fare only at the Seattle terminal causes WSF to lose little — if any — revenue.

A competing POF service may lose riders and revenue, if it charges for the one-way ride to Seattle. Past experience shows that a significant number of riders would take the state ferry without paying a fare, then ride back on the quicker POF.

Perhaps because this test period isn’t meant to determine financial feasibility, the proposal under consideration calls for collecting one-way fares at both ends of the run.

Maybe the Kitsap Transit board ought to consider doing as WSF does — collect the fare for a round trip at the dock in Seattle.

We still wouldn’t find out what premium riders are willing to pay for a quicker ride, but at least the POF would compete for riders without the disadvantage of going up against a “free” ride in one direction.

If we knew how many would ride in each direction, we could at least guess how much taxpayers would have to pay to make up the difference between fare revenue and total costs.

Assuming the low-wake design proves to be successful, a good estimate of the amount taxpayers would need to pay has to be made since a tax increase would almost certainly be required to pay it.

Columnist Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

 

 

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