"Public-private passenger ferries $250,000 closer"

"Kitsap Transit is one step closer to developing a plan to run passenger-only ferries between Kitsap County and Seattle.On Wednesday, the transit board approved $250,000 for Transit director Dick Hayes to spend on lobbyists, consultants and other staff to tackle the many hurdles in developing a passenger-only ferry program.Hayes wants to create a public-private passenger ferry partnership. The plan is for Kitsap Transit to contract with a private ferry operator that would run publicly-owned boats between existing terminals. The plan needs the Legislature’s approval for using state resources and route approval from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which governs ferries and other public utility monopolies.Hayes’ proposal is in response to Washington State Ferries’ plan to dump its passenger ferry service next summer. The ferry system and Kitsap Transit face major budget reductions for next year without the motor vehicle excise tax revenues repealed by the voter-approved Initiative 695. Both agencies say they must cut next year’s routes significantly.“Kitsap Transit has, in the midst of this serious loss to the community caused by the passage of Initiative 695, an urgent and unique opportunity to develop a much-needed cross-(Puget) Sound passenger-only ferry program for Kitsap County,” Hayes wrote to the transit board.State law allows transit agencies to develop high-capacity transportation and fund it with a 1 percent sales tax--if voters approve the additional tax. The $250,000 in start-up money is just a drop in the bucket compared with the $25 million the sales tax hike could raise.Hayes testified in front of the Kitsap Connections Advisory Committee last month that he’d like to start the foot-ferries plan immediately after the state shuts down its passenger-only operation. In a plan revision more recently, his goal is no break in Bremerton service, plus passenger service for Southworth and Kingston starting in 2001.Hayes calls for using state and leased boats at first, but the long-term plan includes buying 15 boats worth $2 million each for the operation’s permanent fleet.Fare hikes for foot ferries seem to be certain, but the exact amount hasn’t been determined. The goal fare rate would recover 50 percent of the operating costs, and Hayes’ proposal pegged that amount at $3 one-way, $5 if fares are collected on only one side of the Sound, $20 for eight one-way rides and $75 for a monthly pass.Hayes insisted “no new layer of government is needed” to operate passenger-only ferries as a division of Kitsap Transit.“I am very serious about the simplicity of the structure proposed,” he said. He added that transit authorities in Island, Clallam, Jefferson and Mason counties may want to affiliate with the Kitsap Transit plan (for example, running a Port Townsend-Seattle foot ferry). But he said he doesn’t want to create a regional transit authority for this operation.One-cent ferry sales tax:Where would the money go?If voters in Kitsap County approve a 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for passenger-only ferries, here’s where the money would go, according to Kitsap Transit:• 10 percent of the money collected (about $2.5 million) for “transit survival”• 10 percent to subsidize existing transit operations• 10 percent to subsidize new transit operations; the combined new and existing transit subsidies are expected to generate about $1 million in additional fares• 30 percent ferry service subsidy (about $7.5 million) which in turn is expected to generate $5 million in fares• 15 percent to pay $3.75 million each year for 10 years in bonds. The bonds would purchase 15 boats worth $2 million each.• 15 percent for short-term terminal development and park-and-ride lots. This $3.75 million expenditure is expected to generate at least $7 million in grants.• 5 percent for miscellaneous start-up costs including radios, information and computer systems, office space and insurance--a total of $1.25 million• 5 percent for contingencies. If this money is not needed for unexpected costs, it would be put into short-term terminal development in the second, third and fourth year of Kitsap Transit foot ferry operation, then into ferry service subsidies after that."

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