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City takes shot at Horluck

Frustrated by what they say is the steadily deteriorating quality of Horluck ferry service, the city council members last week voted unanimously to send a letter to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) expressing their concern.

The resolution, which was sponsored by Councilman Tom Stansbery, calls Horluck Transportation an essential element of the city’s transportation network and says the company is “not meeting our community needs and is failing to meet the minimum expectations (of service).” The resolution was the end result of a discussion which Stansbery said has been going on among councilmembers since September.

“It was a good time to bring up (Horluck’s) gross inadequacies,” Stansbery said. “I think everybody just reached their galling point.”

Stansbery said frustrations with Horluck came to a head on Labor Day weekend when he and others found they could not take the foot ferry to Bremerton’s Blackberry Festival because the ferry did not run on Sunday.

This complaint — that Horluck did not provide service during community events which fell on Sundays or holidays — led to others concerning the dilapidated appearance of the Horluck dock and the company’s on-time record.

Stansbery blames owner Hilton Smith with Horluck’s decline. The ferry route, which has been operating for nearly three-quarters of a century, has been the subject of numerous complaints in the past years. However, Smith said all pertinent issues have been worked out with the WUTC, which oversees the ferry service. He pointed out that Horluck has been in full compliance for more than a year.

“Within the context of the revenue we receive, we are trying to provide the best ferry service we can,” Smith said. “Relative to our agreements with the WUTC, we have never not been on time.”

The WUTC requires Horluck stay within 15 minutes of its posted schedule, or face a $1,000 fine. Horluck also has an agreement with Kitsap Transit which requires transit buses to transport Horluck passengers to their intended destinations should Horluck be forced to cancel a run.

Smith pointed out that in 15 months of service, only four runs were ever cancelled.

He also pointed out that he would lose money by running Sunday and holiday ferries and he is barely making a profit even as it is. Horluck’s schedule coincides with that of Kitsap Transit, which Smith said is where most of his business comes from.

“I’m not taking the risk of losing a considerable amount of money because I don’t have the ridership,” he said.

Stansbery, however, believes that by not adding extra runs during special occasions, Horluck is ignoring the needs of the community. He also doesn’t believe that a 15-minute window of grace is acceptable on a 10-minute cross-inlet run. He said he doesn’t care how much Horluck charges per ticket, as long as the ferries are on-time.

“If you’re going to run a transportation service, the only thing you have to be is reliable,” Stansbery said.

Nevertheless, the WUTC agrees with Smith’s assessment of the situation. Tim Sweeney, a WUTC spokesman, said Horluck is living up to its end of the contract by operating within review standards. He also said the WUTC can’t require Horluck to go into debt by running according to the Port Orchard city council’s requests.

“Those are issues we can’t do anything about,” Sweeney said. “It’s an economic thing. The man usually loses money when he runs.”

As for the dock which was referred to as an “eyesore” by the city council, Smith said he finally has the Army Corps of Engineers permits necessary to do the much-needed repairs. He said he is currently interviewing contractors for the job.

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