KINGSTON — Kitsap Transit Executive Director John Clauson held a quarterly meeting with community members in Kingston at the Village Green Community Center to discuss transit routing in the area and the imminent arrival of a fast ferry connection between the small, waterfront town and downtown Seattle this summer.
During the meeting, Clauson painted a picture of a county transit system struggling to cope with its lack of immunity to a national downturn in ridership. This wasn’t always the case though, Clauson said. “It wasn’t but a couple years ago, on a national basis, that ridership was the highest that it’s ever been. In fact, it was higher than right after WWII, in the big heyday of transit, where everybody was riding.”
Clauson pointed to a number of contributing factors, however he regarded two as being particularly influential in the public’s decision to use or forego transit: cost and convenience.
“When the price of gas went down, all of a sudden you compare that cost to the convenience of driving your own automobile, and people started to shift out of the transits and into their cars,” Clauson explained. Additionally, “The price of money,” Clauson said, was another factor in the downturn of public transit ridership. “So many of the car manufacturers, for the longest time were offering zero interest to buy a car. It made cars affordable for a segment of the population that otherwise probably would’ve been taking advantage of the public transit system.”
As for convenience, Clauson said bringing in Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates offered a re-examination of the existing route structure.
“There are two things that I can say for sure, the first is the routed structure we’re running is the same routed structure that we’ve been operating since we started 35 years ago. The other thing I’m certain of is that Kitsap County has changed in the last 35 years,” Clauson said. “I wanted to take really an in-depth look at all of our routes to try to determine how efficient are they? Are they working for the community? Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing?”
At the suggestion of the consultants — following a rider survey — a decision was made to expand weekday transit service, offering earlier and later schedules to the existing routes. Clauson did however note that specifics as to which routes will benefit from the service expansion have yet to be ironed out.
The room seemed to be waiting for Clauson to address the issue of Kingston’s fast ferry, its arrival date, parking concerns and other questions concerning the service.
Clauson said Kitsap Transit was close to coming to an agreement with the Port of Kingston on its use of the port’s barge as a ferry landing for M/V Finest.
“Jim and I and our two attorneys are going to sit down and we’re gonna arm wrestle the last two or three things that we have some issues with. I think we’re pretty close to an agreement for the Kingston dock,” Clauson said.
As for the refurbishment of the vessel, Clauson offered a couple photos of the ferry as it undergoes a facelift in Whidbey Island at the hands of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders. The interior showed a barren space. “They’ve taken out all the carpets, they’ve taken out all the seats. Basically we’re having them completely refurbish the entire interior, so it’s going to be a brand new boat.”
The boat, Clauson added, is a twin engine vessel propelled by two water jets fixed to the transom below the waterline. Both engines, Clauson said, would be removed and completely rebuilt prior to the ferry’s inception.
Before any money changed hands during the acquisition of M/V Finest, it was stipulated that the vessel first pass a Coast Guard inspection. Clauson said this guaranteed that Kitsap Transit would be getting a boat that would not only hold water but would be immediately ready for service.
“The entire boat passed before we gave them any money, so the boat is seaworthy,” Clauson said. “Basically when we’re done it’s going to be a new boat and an old hull that has been blessed by the Coast Guard.”
While he did say that fares for the crossing will be $2 leaving Kingston and $10 returning, the executive director remained tight-lipped about any specifics for when service would finally begin, instead Clauson opted to tell those in the audience to expect it by summer.