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Horluck fare hike decision delayed

"Convinced Horluck Transportation Co. can survive a while longer without a fare hike, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) won't decide on Horluck's 33 percent fare hike request until Aug. 30.UTC accountant Danny Kermode, who over the last two weeks analyzed the foot-ferry operation, said he needs more time to study Horluck's entire business before making a recommendation before the entire commission.In early July, Horluck owner Hilton Smith asked the UTC to consider raising his adult, cash-carrying fares from $1.50 to $2. Smith asked for the fare hike because he says Horluck has lost nearly $100,000 in revenue since January, and attributes the company's nearly empty coffers to Kitsap Transit doubling its monthly pass price after experiencing dips in its own revenue after the shortfalls brought about by Initiative 695 took effect.Almost 90 percent of the ferry riders had used these monthly passes and Kitsap Transit reimbursed Horluck for carrying riders because doing so is cheaper than busing them around Sinclair Inlet.Kermode agreed that Horluck lost a number of riders since January and possibly revenue during a UTC hearing Wednesday, but said his numbers so far indicate a $2 fare isn't justified. Kermode wants another couple of weeks to analyze Horluck's charter operation, in addition to the foot-ferry business, to figure out whether management or resource allocation come into play when looking at a viable fare package.I want to take the next couple of weeks to try to get a full picture of Horluck's operations, Kermode said. So far, I've taken two weeks to analyze the foot-ferry side of the business. Now I want to look at everything.Smith reportedly asked the commission to reconsider Kermode's recommendation and approve at least a temporary rate increase so he can provide good service. Smith has said he fears Kitsap Transit will try to take over the business.Kitsap Transit service development director John Clauson attended the hearing as well, and both he and the agency's executive director, Dick Hayes, deny Kitsap Transit is trying to take over Horluck.We aren't interested in getting into the ferry business, Clauson has said. We like the concept of reimbursing a privately owned company.Both Clauson and Hayes told the commission Kitsap Transit will continue to reimburse Horluck at 90 percent of its fares as it does currently, even in the face of another potential fare increase.We indicated our faith in the UTC staff and we will continue to accept the premise of the 90 percent reimbursement once we hear a decision Aug. 30, Clauson said of the hearing.But we also indicated that Kitsap Transit has lost faith in the current foot-ferry operation's ability to maintain its vessels and its service, he said.Leslie Yuenger, a longtime foot-ferry commuter and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard employee attended the hearing as well, and shared concerns similar to Clauson's.Yuenger, who speaks in public on behalf of many foot-ferry riders, told the commission Wednesday commuters just want dependable service and that they are not trying to put anyone out of business.Commuters just want to know they can get to work and back again.Complaints such of these poured into the UTC in recent weeks, and quality control staff launched an investigation into the reliability of Horluck's foot-ferry service.Sweeney said the results of the investigation might not be known for another two weeks, but could possibly affect a decision about Horluck's fare hike request by the end of this month.Smith has said Horluck's lost revenue has lead to repeat breakdowns and disruptions in service across Sinclair Inlet this year.In the five years since I purchased Horluck, there haven't been so many breakdowns as after this January when 695 took effect, Smith said. "

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