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Kitsap Transit’s POF plan still in play

In a move that at least temporarily supports Kitsap Transit’s plan to facilitate private foot-ferry service to South Kitsap, the Transportation Budget Proposal released by the state Senate this week not only denies Washington State Ferries the $3 million it requested to launch a Southworth-Vashon-Seattle run but makes grants available to smaller agencies wishing to start up their own service.

WSF, in a report to the Legislature earlier this year, said it not only hoped to expand its passenger-only-ferry (POF) service to include Southworth but urged legislators to block plans by other agencies — such as Kitsap Transit — to service the Southworth market, claiming such runs would drain enough passengers from the current state POF run to effectively ground it.

To enact its plan, WSF requested $3 million for improvements to two mothballed vessels — the Chinook and Snohomish — and upgrades to the ferry terminals at Southworth and Vashon.

However, the Senate proposal released Monday provides public transportation funds “solely for competitive grants for a county or local government to provide (POF) services,” including $1.75 million for a Seattle to Vashon route.

In addition, the proposal calls for the mothballed ferries to be “sold and the proceeds placed in an account which may be accessed by transit agencies in need of capital funds to initiate passenger-only service.”

That section of the proposal matched the expectation of Kitsap Transit legislative liaison Jim Metcalf, who, along with the agency’s executive director Richard Hayes, predicted the Senate would support agencies other than WSF providing POF service.

But Metcalf said other details of the proposal did surprise him, especially the section that continues funding for the state-run POF between Vashon and Seattle for only an additional year, then provides “ongoing operational grants ... for King County Metro to assume operation of the route.”

However promising the Senate proposal may look for his agency’s plans currently, Metcalf said nothing is certain because even if those provisions remain in the final transportation package approved by the Senate, they still have to pass muster with the House, which supported WSF both continuing and expanding its POF service.

“Everything is still up in the air at this point, and they don’t have enough votes for the entire package,” Metcalf said Thursday.

Hayes said previously he would not create a competing service if the Legislature approves the state ferry plan, and that he was waiting to see the finalized budget before deciding his next move.

“I’m waiting now for the full (Transportation) Package,” Hayes said, promising he would gracefully step aside if WSF were able to provide South Kitsap passenger-only ferries, but “just because they’re proposing it, doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk.

“(The state) has a history of inconsistency,” he said. “The worst-case scenario is they get the funding, they fix the boats up, then at the next session, the Legislature backs out. And we would have lost the entire year of planning. We would be back where we started.”

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