With the summer season five months away, Port Orchard city councilmembers weighed in on whether to fund ferry service and if so, what days and hours should it run.
Last May, the council approved a joint agreement with the Port of Bremerton and the City of Bremerton for Kitsap Harbor Tours, Inc., to provide additional foot ferry service hours on Friday and Saturday during the summer. Extended hours began May 24 and ended Sept. 2, while Friday and Saturday hours were extend to midnight.
The agreement stated the ferry would operate on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., along with Sunday events and holiday service.
Port Orchard’s portion of the cost is higher than the joining partners.The City allocated $9,500, while the Port is giving $5,500 and Bremerton $6,500. Cost to operate the ferry is $151 per hour.
At the Jan. 28 council meeting, City Clerk Brandy Rinearson noted that $6,500 has been budgeted from the Lodging Tax Funds for this summer. She also provided documents on a breakdown of riders on the foot ferry during from May 24 to Sept. 2.
Councilman John Clauson said there were some trips that operated late night with no passengers onboard and it cost $37 per trip.
“Before I would be comfortable to support this, we need to do a little more homework on whether or not — and I’m only speaking about the late night hours,” said Clauson. “I think the service we provide for Sundays and holidays are pretty effective. Late night looks like a compete waste of money.”
Clauson said, according to the riders report, during extend hours on June 1, only 11 people rode the foot ferry.
“If you add up the cost for those 11, we were paying $47 per person,” he said. “It would have been cheaper for us to hire a cab.”
Clauson suggested that the Economic Development/Tourism Committee — Councilmembers Bek Ashby, Jeff Cartwright and Fred Chang — look at the issue and talk to local merchants to see if they seen any benefits from the extended hours last summer.
Council Rob Pataanuu echoed Clauson concerns.
“ I rode the foot ferry a handful of times during extended hours and noticed that I — and who I was riding with — were the only people on the boat,” Putaanuus said.
Putaansuu said he favors providing Sundays and holiday service, but questioned the extended hours. He also wants the committee to examine the extended hours for the foot ferry.
“Let’s talk to the other partners to find out what they want to see,” Putaanuu added.
Ashby said the Economic Development/Tourism Committee meet Monday and discussed the foot ferry.
Ashby, who is active in the Port Orchard Bay Street Association, said the extended hours on the foot ferry was an important element to downtown merchants.
She said POBSA distributed 500 free tickets in Bremerton to ride the foot ferry.
“Of the 500 tickets distributed, 190 people took advantage of the program,” said Ashby. “Fifty-five tickets were used during the extended hours and 135 were used during regular hours.”
Mayor Tim Matthes said the city knew it wasn’t going to be cost efficient in the first year.
“It was a mild success,” the mayor said. “We’re hoping when three or four new business open up downtown, that we will do better this year.”
Matthes asked the council not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
“It’s not a net winner for us, but I think it will be if we give it another year,” said Matthes. “Let’s be patient and try it again. We have it in the budget.”
Chang said before extending the hours last summer, there was no data to compare ridership response.
“Now that we know, maybe we can fine tune some of the Friday and Saturday evening hours,” said Chang. “This is something that can grow once people know about it. We need to do a better job getting the word out.”
Chang said the city went into the agreement knowing it wasn’t going to be a “money maker.”
“The fact we came under budget is actually one of the signs of success,” Chang said. “We allocated money and we came under that.”
Cartwright said the money from the lodging tax is primary for “heads in beds.”
“I’m not convinced — based on the data — that the extended Friday and Saturday hours is doing that,” said Cartwright.
Cartwright said he wants to make sure the city is being efficient with lodging tax money.