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Port Orchard seeks foot ferry cutback reprieve

Kitsap Transit has eliminated Sunday foot ferry service between Port Orchard and Bremerton as of last week, but some users of the service hope there is some way to revive the service.

“This is a historical connection between the two downtown areas,” said Port Orchard City Councilor Fred Chang, who commutes on the ferry between Port Orchard and Seattle. “It is in both our interests to keep this going.”

The decision to eliminate the service was made at a Dec. 15 meeting of the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners, and was only one of a series of countywide cutbacks that were made necessary by falling ridership and increasing expenses.

In addition to the discontinuation of Sunday service, the 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturday evening round-trips are being eliminated. Starting Feb. 21 the last foot ferry departures will be at 7:30 p.m. from Port Orchard and 7:45 p.m. from Bremerton.

Two factors contributing to the service’s vulnerability were the fact that only about 1,000 riders use the ferry each Sunday, and that the service was free.

Chang has added the topic to the city council’s Feb. 17 work study agenda, at which time he plans to explore alternatives to the shutdown and discuss alternate funding possibilities.

“I think that Port Orchard wants this,” he said. “Someone should have been there to stand up for Port Orchard when this decision was made.”

In fact, two Port Orchard representatives were present when the action passed, and neither chose to take on the particular battle. Mayor Lary Coppola is a member of the transit board, and Kitsap Transit Service Development Director John Clauson is the longest serving member of the Port Orchard City Council.

“From the city’s perspective we would love for this to keep running,” Coppola said. “But from Kitsap Transit’s perspective there were cuts that needed to be made. The Sunday foot ferry doesn’t generate enough money to pay for itself. If there was any way to keep this going, (Kitsap Transit Executive Director) Dick (Hayes) and John (Clauson) would have done it.”

Added Kitsap Transit spokesperson Cathie Knox Browning “there were system wide cuts we needed to make and it was going to cost twice as much money to provide the same service in other areas. So the board chose to cut the Sunday ferry.”

Clauson said that a creative solution may emerge, such as contracting directly with Kitsap Harbor Tours for the service. In that case, Kitsap Transit would have to be reimbursed for fuel costs.

“The question is whether or not the city is interested in taking on this responsibility,” Clauson said. “Kitsap Transit would not have to be involved in this transaction.”

A key part of the process will be to determine the exact cost of running the Sunday service, which Chang said has not yet been determined. “Right now we are the tail wagging the dog,” he said.

The council’s work study begins at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Port Orchard City Hall council chambers.

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