Foot ferry brings back memory of better times

Many people in Port Orchard remember a time when the foot ferry, serving the citizen's across-the-water transportation needs, was more inclusive of nighttime life, trips to events in other towns and bringing out-of-town tourists into the city.

In recent years, the late-night transporting of Port Orchard residents to places such as Bremerton and Seattle for sporting events, movies, shopping, as well as attracting individuals who wish to come into Port Orchard for recreation, dining, drinking and music have been cut, especially on Saturday evenings.

Don Ryan, Port Orchard Bay Street Association president and owner of the One Ten Martini Bar remembers the days when the Foot Ferry brought people in and out of town  to enjoy Port Orchard. His business has suffered with the lack of Saturday, late-night service.

"These customers don't come anymore," Ryan said. "It's not just my business, but all businesses — MoonDogs Too, Amy's on the Bay-- a lot of people used to come to downtown Port Orchard." Ryan said that the closure of Bay Street Ale House, a Chinese restaurant and Slip 45, among other establishments, is partly due to decreased operating hours of the Saturday ferry service. Sailors stay across the Inlett in Bremerton rather than come to Port Orchard, he said.

"They can't get back to Bremerton after 7:30 p.m.," Ryan said. "There are 20,000 sailors that are 10 minutes away but can't get a ride back. A lot of them stay on the ships and don't have cars because they cannot bring cars onto the ships. They are not going to stay the night in Port Orchard so they end up staying in Bremerton and spending their money there."

MoonDogs Too restaurant and bar owner Daryl Baldwin agrees with Ryan and said that he thinks that a lack of a Saturday, late-night ferry service allowing people who park their boats in the Bremerton boat dock is definitely something that affects how much money his business takes in on the weekend and also limits the variety of restaurants and clubs these individuals, whether vacationers, long-time residents or military personnel, can enjoy.

Baldwin said Port Orchard as a better restaurant selection than Bremerton, but with the last boat leaving Port Orchard at 7:30 p.m. people will not come.

"It means that many of them won't eat at our restaurants or go to our bars," Baldwin said.

Kitsap Transit Executive Director and Port Orchard City Council Finance Committee chair John Clauson said that the foot ferry service from Port Orchard to Bremerton was reduced over the years because of tight financial times.

"When economy went south 2008/2009 we had to respond appropriately to keep our expenses in line with our revenue," Clauson said. "We had to either increase the fair or reduce the service. We did both."

Clauson added that while he understands Ryan and Baldwin's view on ferry hours negatively affecting downtown businesses, but the reality is that cuts in public transportation services have damaged businesses in other parts of Kitsap county as well.

Ryan said that he believes that Kitsap Transit shouldn't run the foot ferry as a public service because a lack of funds for late-night hours means that people with money to spend simply won't bother spending their weekend nights in Port Orchard when there is no way to get back past 8:30 p.m. and, likewise, Port Orchard residents won't travel to other towns for events when there is no service to get back to their hometown in the final evening hours.

Horluck Transportation, a private company, sold its foot ferry service to Kitsap transit for $ 1.52 million, sometime in the late 1990's.

"Kitsap Transit bought the ferries, and they are considered an entire part of the transit system,” Ryan said.  "When it was a privately owned foot ferry, it ran until 12:00 a.m. and it was not part of the bus system."

Clauson said that when Horluck Transportation owned the foot ferry transportation services for Port Orchard that severe maintenance problems existed with the ferries and that the boats are in better condition for residents, tourists and military personnel than they were back then.

Baldwin thinks that Kitsap transit should retain ownership of the foot ferry, but that he wants to see funding for transportation services increase because he believes it will help businesses downtown do well but also help people seeking work.

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