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Oke tapped to join new foot-ferry task force

The question of how to pay for the passenger-only ferries so crucial to commuters in Port Orchard in Bremerton is not one that is easily answered — at least in the past decade — but a new task force created during the 2005 legislative session hopes to answer the previously unanswerable.

“How to pay for passenger-only ferries has been a back-and-forth discussion since the first hard look at costs in 1991,” said Sen. Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard), an appointed member of the task force.

Among the parties with the most at stake are the Inland Boatmen’s Union, whose members operate Washington State Ferries and Legislators concerned that non-user taxpayers are heavily subsidizing a program running in the red.

Private enterprise interest and affordability and the profitability of keeping Vashon Island in the loop – no matter who funds the service — are issues the task force hopes to address.

Two-thirds of the ridership comes from Southworth.

The challenge was carefully laid by the Legislature in January:

“By the end of the Task Force’s sixth meeting, the members will have reached agreement on a set of recommendations (a preferred alternative) for providing and funding passenger-only ferry boat service.”

The goal may have been set by the Legislature, but the timing has been set by Jim Reid, an outside consultant with no transportation ties, hired to lead the task force. Reid works for The Falconer Group.

The first meeting of the task force is Monday, Aug. 29, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Puget Sound Regional Council Building, Suite 500, 1011 Western Ave. in Seattle. The meeting is open to the public.

“For over 50 years, the state has recognized that ferries are a lifeline for many communities. Those lifelines are just as strong today, if not stronger, because of the dangerous congestion problems we have on our roads. I want to do everything possible to keep Southworth’s lifeline going,” Oke said.

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