Harbor Tours’ service ship shape so far

Despite claims from competitors that Kitsap Harbor Tours would never be able to handle the former Horluck Foot Ferry run, it appears the company is a hit with frequent ferry travelers.

A month into its new contract, ferry riders report Port Orchard-based Kitsap Harbor Tours does a much better job of staying on schedule than Horluck did, even during rush hour.

Regular commuters who count on the Harbor Tours boats to connect them with Seattle-bound ferries also say the new schedule — set by owner Kitsap Transit — does a much better job of getting them to their boats on-time.

Horluck, which made its last run Dec. 19, was notorious for late departures, especially while trying to complete the “triangle run” between Bremerton, Port Orchard and Annapolis in the mornings and evenings. A disconnect with the Washington State Ferry schedule also created frequent situations in which foot-ferry riders would arrive in Bremerton just in time to see their Seattle ferry leave.

“The adjusted schedule, especially the 7:50 p.m. departure from the Bremerton side, works great for people who take the 6:45 p.m. Seattle car ferry from Seattle to Bremerton,” said rider Brad Lambert, who commutes to work in Seattle from his home in Port Orchard. “Before, the foot ferry left at 6:45 and the Seattle car ferry commuters had an additional 30-minute wait in Bremerton while waiting for the 7:15 p.m. foot ferry.”

Lambert, a member of the Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee, said although the new, smaller boats aren’t quite up to making the 15-minute round trip Kitsap Transit is aiming for, the eight-minute crossing time is a vast improvement over the slower Horluck boats, which could take 10 minutes-plus.

John Clauson, Kitsap Transit’s service development director, said the Harbor Tours boats are, in fact, making the 15-minute round-trip, but only between Annapolis and Bremerton. The purpose of having fast turnaround in Port Orchard, he said, was to accommodate the proposed Port Orchard/Seattle passenger-only ferries. However, now that Kitsap Transit has failed to win public support for the project, Clauson said he doesn’t see the point of pushing the ferry crews to reduce their turnaround times.

“(Instead) we adjusted the schedule to let the boats hold longer in Bremerton to allow a better connection with the state boats,” he said.

Overall, Clauson continued, Kitsap Transit has been very pleased with Harbor Tours’ performance, especially its commitment to on-time sailings. The agency hasn’t yet gotten ridership reports for January, but Clauson said anecdotally that it appears rider volumes have remained steady or even increased a little bit since Harbor Tours took over.

“I think it’s been going quite well, actually,” he said.

Nevertheless, there still appears to be room for improvement. The Harbor Tours boats don’t line up exactly with the WSF boats’ schedules yet — many commuters have wish lists of times they would like to see extra runs, especially in the evening.

Lambert said he personally hopes Kitsap Transit starts making considerations for commuters who are forced to work late. He said the cut-off for Port Orchard commuters leaving Seattle is before 7 p.m. — not too terribly late in the world of business. Lambert said what he’d really like to see is a direct foot-ferry between Port Orchard and Seattle but, lacking that, he’d settle for a few extra runs handling night traffic.

“As it is now the last boat is at 8:15 p.m. and if one misses it you’re stuck in Bremerton and it costs about $15 for a cab ride home to Port Orchard,” he said. “Therefore, if I am not on the 6:45 p.m. boat in Seattle, I need a cab.”

In response, Clauson said he’s heard similar requests from other commuters but doesn’t have any immediately plans to extend the foot-ferry’s run. He said adding later boats would not be cost effective — the ferry already relies on taxpayer assistance to retain its current run schedule and there aren’t enough late-day workers to justify expansion.

“There just isn’t enough demand there at this point,” Clauson said.

Kitsap Harbor Tours, which charges Kitsap Transit an hourly fee to run the service, is contracted for the run through 2009. Contract options will allow the company to continue after that point if both Harbor Tours and Kitsap Transit agree.

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