Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent says she is open to reducing Sunday foot ferry service between Bremerton and Port Orchard during summer months in order to allow the boats to run a little later on Friday and Saturday nights.
Under a proposal that Lent will take to the city council, summertime Sunday foot ferry service times would be reduced, but still cover the Sunday market in Bremerton between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
As things stand now, when it comes to Saturday sailings, the last boat leaves Port Orchard at 7:30 p.m. and leaves Bremerton at 7:45 p.m. On Fridays, the last boat leaves Port Orchard at 8:30 p.m. and the last boat leaves Bremerton at 8:45 p.m. Under the proposed changes, the boats could run a couple extra hours on each of those nights at no additional cost to Bremerton, Port Orchard or the Port of Bremerton.
“That way we’re not asking for more money, we’re just re-configuring,” Lent said.
Backers of later runs on Friday and Saturday nights argue that expanded service will allow for more shopping and dining in downtowns on both sides of the water.
The cities and the port each contribute $5,500 per year for Sunday foot ferry service between May and September ever since Kitsap Transit completely cut Sunday bus and ferry service in 2009. Kitsap Transit is not involved in the program other than allowing its contractor, Kitsap Harbor Tours, the use of its boats.
“We do not offer any service on Sunday,” said Kitsap Tranist Executive Director John Clauson. “So, if there is service that is provided it is through an arrangement between our contractor and the paying parties. They’re able to use our vessels for charter work as long as it does not interrupt our service in any way.”
Even with the contributions from the cities and the port, ferry riders still pay $2 to ride each way on Sundays. Lent says that the annual contribution to sustain Sunday service is worth it from an economic development standpoint.
“We feel the people that utilize this are spending money in our city,” she said. “So, it’s spending money to make money.”
Lent, who sits on the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners, also said that the cities and port all working together has been a good thing.
“It’s been a good relationship,” she said. “It’s something that is done collaboratively that we feel we all benefit from.”
In 2008, Kitsap Transit bought the foot ferries for $1.5 million from Hilton Smith, who purchased the service from privately owned Horluck Transportation in 1995. Kitsap Transit then discontinued all Sunday bus and ferry service in 2009 for an annual savings of about $750,000.
“We essentially just shut the entire agency down on Sundays,” Clauson said. “It was an issue with the downturn in the economy. We are funded from retail sales tax in our county so as the economy turned south, we had to make cost saving changes to the organization and Sunday was one of those options that was selected as a significant savings with a minimal impact on riders.”
Clauson, who is also a Port Orchad city councilman, said he is careful to maintain two separate hats.
“Whenever this issue comes before the council I recuse myself and literally leave the room,” he said.