Kitsap Transit to buy foot ferry for $1.5M
Hilton Smith, who bought the privately owned Horluck Transportation in October 1995, signed papers to sell the dock, rights to two boats, and the license to operate the ferry to the transit agency.
All that remains is approval of the Kitsap Transit's Board of Commissioners, who will meet Tuesday.
Kitsap Transit will benefit from the stability of controlling its costs for the ferry. It also can apply for federal money to improve the service, which carries 400,000 passengers a year between Port Orchard and Bremerton, service development director John Clauson said.
"Kitsap Transit has access (to funding) which the private operator doesn't have," Smith said.
Federal grants pick up a major portion of capital expenses for projects. The agencies pay less than a quarter, Smith said.
"They can buy a million-dollar, brand-new boat and pay $200,000 where I'd have to pay a million," Smith said.
"It's a good thing for the public to own the ferry, if only for that reason."
The transit agency's top priority for funding is to renovate the Port Orchard dock to bring it into compliance with environmental regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The dock is not accessible to the disabled, although the boats are.
Clauson said the agency also wants to improve the connection
between buses and the ferry by improving bus loading areas and shelters.
The $1.52 million for the sale will come out of the transit agency's capital budget for the next three years.
Horluck will continue to operate the ferries under a contract with the agency for a year, during which Kitsap Transit will recruit another contractor to run them.
During that time, Clauson said, users can expect to see changes.
For example, the agency plans to bring back Sunday service and two boats operating between Bremerton and Port Orchard and Annapolis, for commuter runs, Clauson said.
The agency also would bring the ferry's schedule on line with the rest of Kitsap Transit's by adding runs on holidays, Clauson said.
Clauson said it's too early to tell whether the $2 fare for the foot ferry will be brought down to the $1 buses charge.
Any change would affect a small number of riders — roughly one in 10 — who pay cash instead of using a Kitsap Transit bus transfer or monthly pass.
Kitsap Transit, which pays Horluck $1.80 for each passenger trip, has long sought to control the costs of the service.
In 2002, Kitsap Transit budgeted $453,189 to operate the passenger ferry service, up 9 percent from the year before.
The ferry operator had raised the fare several times during the past decade and had recently asked state regulators to raise rates again before pulling the request off the table.
"Horluck is extremely efficient," Smith said. "(Kitsap Transit) might have a hard time maintaining that once they take over."
Costs have gone up during the seven years, but so has quality of service, he said. He pointed to higher wages and the addition of health benefits for his 12 employees.
The ferry is an important connection in Kitsap Transit's system because it links Bremerton to Port Orchard and South Kitsap directly across Sinclair Inlet, saving the agency the money and time of busing people through Gorst.
Kitsap Transit and Horluck had agreed in May to sell just the dock for $495,000, but that deal stalled.
"We couldn't quite come to terms and we couldn't justify putting public dollars into a project that wasn't going to be in public ownership," Clauson said.
The deal turns Kitsap Transit, operator of the county's bus system, into a boat operator.
"It's certainly new territory for us," Clauson said.
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