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There's trouble aboard the good ship Horluck

"Leslie Yuenger isn’t positive anymore whether her hard-earned money can buy reliable ferry service from Horluck Transportation.Imagine her surprise Monday when one of the regularly scheduled private ferries didn’t show up at the Annapolis dock. “There was no boat, no sign, no message,” Yuenger explained. “There was nothing. No notice indicating the ferry wasn’t running.”No way to get to work, either.Turns out the vessel required significant repair and was docked at Horluck’s Port Orchard terminal.If not for a Kitsap Transit bus headed for Port Orchard, Yuenger and other stranded commuters wouldn’t have made it to their Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on time. They caught a free ride and eventually crossed Sinclair Inlet on a Port Orchard-to-Bremerton Horluck ferry. Commuter Donn Edwards arrived late at the shipyard, though.“I’ve been late every day this week,” he said. “I am not so much worried about the cost,” said Patricia Peterson, another regular Horluck commuter. “It’s just that the ferries are extremely unreliable.”Uncertainty abounds. The consenus among commuters? Kitsap County deserves solid, public transportation.Horluck owner Hilton Smith said Thursday that Kitsap Transit’s recent refusal of capital for new boats and boat repairs has resulted in uncertain ferry runs. He apologized for any inconvenience suffered by commuters over the last few weeks.Some 1,200 Horluck faithfuls pay $50 for their monthly ferry passes. Before Jan. 1, that same pass cost $25. For low-income riders, the cost was $12.50.Here’s how the whole pass deal works: Commuters purchase passes through Kitsap Transit. Horluck crew members accept them as fare and Kitsap Transit, in turn, reimburses the private ferry service. But faced with immense budget reductions since the passage of Initiative 695, Kitsap Transit raised the cost of monthly Horluck passes to a flat $50, in addition to other fare hikes. Consequently, Horluck lost about 300 daily commuters who’ve chosen to drive to work rather than pay the higher fee. Plus, Kitsap Transit isn’t passing on the fee hikes in its reimbursement plan.For Horluck, that’s resulted in an $85,000 to $90,000 revenue loss for Horluck.Consequently, Smith said he doesn’t have revenue available to fix Horluck’s broken boats. He does, however, expect the Carlisle and Mary L to be running within a few weeks, rebuilt engines and all.If Kitsap Transit can’t fund a better reimbursement package, Smith said he could cut mid-day runs and focus on commuter hours or offer a cheaper version of the monthly ferry pass to attract more riders.Smith has also mentioned the possibility of reverting the ferry service to charter service.“These boats can be used for private charters and produce enough revenue to keep the business alive, but not keep the ferries alive,” he said.Kitsap Transit officials say Smith’s private, for-profit ferry franchise isn’t eligible to receive public money. Transit executive director Dick Hayes has said that giving money to a private franchise constitutes a gift of public funds, which is prohibited by state law.Smith and Transit officials met Thursday, but the results of the meeting weren’t available as of press time.“I can commiserate to an extent with (Smith’s) issues, but he owns a private enterprise” that he purchased knowing the risks, said Peterson, one of his customers. “I don’t like the idea of taxpayers paying for a private business, either.”"

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