Opinion

Foot ferry plan still doesn't pencil out

Most of us have already voted by now, so the fate of the Kitsap County Ferry Fleet has probably been decided.

I was opposed from the beginning, and I never heard or read anything that changed my mind, despite the hard sell put on by The Sun in cahoots with Kitsap Transit.

I read and clipped all the letters to the editors of the newspapers in the county, and the chief argument against Proposition 1 was a disinclination to subsidize commuters who live here and work elsewhere, but want their travel time shortened from the hour on the car ferries.

Move closer to the job, advised the letter writers.

I’m not opposed to foot ferries. I just don’t think it is the responsibility of Kitsap County to provide an alternative ferry service for Puget Sound. It’s really a matter of convenience, not necessity. Even if needed, it’s a state responsibility. If the state couldn’t afford to run passenger ferries, how can one county do it?

Kitsap Transit’s Richard Hayes says it’s because he’s going to use smaller vessels that take fewer crew members and less fuel. Then why didn’t the state think of that?

And what if there aren’t enough people willing or able to pay $9 a round trip? Tourists? As one letter writer said, what family of four is going to pay $36 to walk on and off a foot ferry when, they can ride the car ferry cheaper? The view from the car ferries is vastly better, too.

Hayes is planning on 15- to 20-minute rush-hour trips between Bremerton, Kingston and Southworth to Seattle with a turnaround time of four or five minutes for loading and unloading.

He also has special seating arrangements for wheelchairs and baby strollers. I question whe-ther they can unload and reload in five minutes if there’s even one wheelchair passenger aboard, unless they hire “pushers” like they have for Japanese trains.

His answer to that is they do it in five minutes in New York. It looked to me on television as if the Staten Island ferry was trying too hard to keep to schedule.

We don’t yet know if the boat being designed by Art Anderson’s firm will do the job both in time involved and reduction of wake damage to the beaches. Hayes says the boat won’t be any drastic new design but a derivation of a tried and true design. It will be tested. And he’s figuring on some wake damage and will maintain a fund to pay for it.

Now, money. It disturbs me that there is no expiration date to the taxes being imposed on us if this passes. We’d be paying .3 of a cent sales tax and double the current car tab tax of $30 — ad infinitum. I asked Hayes what happens once they finish building the 14 ferryboats at $2.5 million apiece and the money is still coming in. Was it tied to development of the ferry fleet or could some of it be diverted to Kitsap Transit? He said it was ferry-oriented but they could build park and ride lots.

“We anticipate steady growth,” he said. “We will continue to invest in terminals.”

I’d rather have heard him say they would, with the major expenditure of vessel construction completed, eliminate the car tab tax and/or reduce the sales tax. That’s the trouble with passing new taxes. They never go away, even when the job is done that they were levied to accomplish.

So is it going to pass? There are a lot of new people here who don’t remember Capt. Alex Peabody and the Black Ball Fleet, which had to be bailed out by the state, so they’re probably receptive to Prop 1.

State Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Poulsbo, co-sponsored the bill that lets Kitsap Transit have the first shot at it, but she also has a backup plan signed by the governor.

Currently, private ferries cannot operate within 10 miles of an existing route without a waiver.

Her bill exempts foot ferries from the 10-mile rule and waiver requirement. It also allows operators to use state terminals, docks and piers. If Prop 1 fails, it will be interesting to see how many, if any, private operators think it’s worth having a crack at it — at their risk, not ours.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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