Horluck rate hike up for grabs

"One week from today, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) plans to reconvene in Olympia during an open hearing to decide on a different cash-carrying fare structure for Horluck Transportation Co. And, it seems, no matter which way it's sliced, foot-ferry faithfuls - at least those who pay cash to ride Horluck, rather than use Kitsap Transit passes - could be paying more than ever before for a ride across Sinclair Inlet.Horluck owner Hilton Smith asked the UTC in early July to approve raising one-way, adult, cash-carrying fares on the foot ferries from $1.50 to $2 to sustain the company's coffers, apparently drained since January by the effects of Initiative 695, and because of costs associated with repairing vessels from the beleaguered fleet.Meanwhile, Kitsap Transit has been paying Horluck $1.40 (93 percent of the $1.50 current cash fare) for each commuter who uses Transit passes, tickets transfers, or military IDs to ride the foot ferries. In what's called a reimbursement fare agreement (RFA), the transit agency has reimbursed Horluck since 1993 for ferrying commuters across Sinclair Inlet because that has been more cost-effective than busing riders all the way around.Next wednesday, the UTC isn't going to just decide whether to grant Smith's 33 percent cash fare hike request. Instead, the UTC has asked Horluck and Kitsap Transit to renegotiate the RFA and, based on that agreement, the UTC can finally decide what type of cash-fare increase to grant Horluck.Since Horluck plans to implement the pared-down, UTC-approved service schedule beginning Saturday, Sept. 10, the cost of operating the ferry shifted. And, even though the ferries will operate on a tighter service schedule, which will still rely on a two-boat system, UTC staff members recently figured one-way, adult cash-carrying fares could justifiably be raised to $1.90, rather than $2, though Smith says that fare is still under negotiation with the UTC.Gas prices have gone up considerably over the last month, he said, affecting operating costs.The $1.90 rate is also assuming Kitsap Transit can still reimburse Horluck by at least 90 percent, which translates to $1.71.Problem is, the UTC doesn't regulate the transit agency, so the state doesn't control whether Kitsap Transit continues to reimburse Horluck at 90 percent, said UTC revenue specialist Danny Kermode.We at the UTC hope our recent findings encourage both Horluck and Kitsap Transit to go once more to the negotiating table, Kermode said last week.If Kitsap Transit, for whatever reason, can't divvy up 31 more cents, and the reimbursement rate remains at $1.40, then Kermode said UTC staff could recommend Horluck cash fares be slated for $2.75, per adult, cash-carrying passengers. In other words, it could cost $5.50 to travel from Port Orchard to Bremerton and back again.Of course, both parties could simply cancel the reimbursement system, altogether, Kermode said, but he and other staff members hope that won't happen.According to UTC staff, if an agreement was dissolved, Horluck could charge adult, cash-carrying passengers $1.80 to cross Sinclair Inlet, one way.Smith said about 70 percent of Horluck passengers use Kitsap Transit passes, rather than paying cash, so most customers won't be affected by the potential fare hikes.Attorneys for Kitsap Transit and Horluck over the last week have been constantly negotiating a new RFA, and Smith says he doesn't know of any reason to date why an agreement wouldn't be reached.In a related matter, another UTC-hosted hearing is reportedly coming down the pike, regarding Horluck's service compliance. A complaint-driven investigation into the foot ferry company's ability to adhere to specific service requirements was launched by UTC staff nearly one month ago. "

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