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Passenger-only ferry measure hammered

The ballots technically aren’t all in — Kitsap County still has more than 19,000 left to count — but it looks like Kitsap Transit’s passenger-only ferry levy is dead in the water.

As of Tuesday night, 26,802 county residents — 63 percent of the total ballots received — had voted against the proposed dual tax, which called for a three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax hike and an additional motor vehicle excise tax. Opponents of the measure said its defeat was unsurprising, given what Kitsap Transit was asking.

“It just wasn’t a good idea in the first place, and I don’t know if they can ever make it a good idea,” said Ayvon Card, a Manchester resident who served as secretary/treasurer of the No New Taxes Coalition.

Card and others who campaigned vehemently against the levy said it was unfair for Kitsap taxpayers to subsidize what is essentially a luxury form of transportation.

Many objected to non-Seattle commuters paying extra so those who do commute could do so a little faster.

Card said she particularly objected to Kitsap Transit’s plan to put passenger-only ferry service back on the Bremerton run, especially since Washington State Ferry’s passenger-only boats were pulled off because they were unprofitable.

“The (WSF passenger-only) ferry boat was a stupid idea in the first place,” she said. “I couldn’t see that every time you put a person on the passenger-only ferry, you take them off the car ferry.”

Port Orchard resident Fred Chang, who chairs the Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee, said it isn’t simply a matter of faster service. He said that since the removal of passenger-only service from Bremerton, the car ferries on that route have become unbearably crowded. Other FAC members have recently shared stories about fistfights that have nearly broken out on-board over passengers occupying more than one seat.

On most rush-hour runs, Chang said, even adequate standing room becomes tough to find.

“The 5:30 p.m. ferry (from Seattle) is called the ‘Bangladesh ferry’ because it’s really crowded,” he said. “They actually turned people away (coming) from a Seahawks game once. I’ve never heard of car ferries hitting their passenger capacities before.”

The car ferry route between Kingston and Edmonds is beginning to suffer similar problems. During the week, morning commuters — even those coming from Edmonds — often are forced to wait for later boats as the vessels hit capacity run after run.

Kitsap Transit Executive Director Dick Hayes said he was dismayed by the 15-point gap in the election returns, but said it simply served as evidence that the passenger-only ferry plan needed “a major overhaul.”

Hayes said Kitsap Transit staff plan to spend the next few months talking to people to get a better idea of what kind of proposal will fly with Kitsap voters. He said he believes a workable compromise is possible and said he won’t rush back to the polls until Kitsap Transit believes it has successfully drafted one.

Hayes said Kitsap Transit has no plans to launch its own special election come April, as has been rumored.

“We’ve heard from the people that love it and the people that hate it — now we want to hear from the people in the middle,” he said.

Chang said although on a personal level he believes Kitsap Transit is the best agency for the job. He said the Bremerton FAC’s primary priority is simply getting either more or bigger boats on its run.

“We don’t care about what boat it is as long as it’s more,” Chang said.

Card, on the other hand, said the whole levy issue simply comes down to government asking for more from those who can afford it least.

She said although the transit staff advertises the proposed tax increase as minor, those who already struggle to make ends meet will see it as very major.

“When I was a single parent, I used to sit down at night and cry because I didn’t know where I was going to get (the money),” Card said. “And I wasn’t the only one — there were a lot who were worse off than I was.”

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