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Foot Ferries Might Be Revived

Foot ferries might be revived
A consortium of four private companies could start with Kingston-Seattle commuter service.

Ann Strosnider
Sun Staff

Voters may have turned down tax-supported passenger-only ferry service, but interest in foot ferries remains strong.

John Blackman, owner of Seattle-based Argosy Cruises, said Monday that four companies have come together to form a new entity — Aqua Express — for the purpose of providing foot ferry service.

He spoke at a meeting of the steering committee of the Puget Sound Passenger Ferry Coalition held aboard a state ferry as it made its run from Anacortes through the San Juan Islands.

The companies forming Aqua Express are Argosy Cruises, Clipper Navigation, Nichols Brothers Boat Builders and TMT Corp., a vessel-leasing and operating company.

The new entity registered Nov. 13 with the Secretary of State’s Office in Olympia.

Blackman said Aqua is in the process of acquiring a vessel. It would need approval from the state Utilities and Transportation Commission before it could begin operating a passenger ferry route. If it began service before March 2005, it would also need permission from Kitsap County, Blackman said, because of a law passed by the Legislature this year.

The most likely first route would be between Kingston and Seattle, Blackman said.

The boat would run strictly during commuter hours and would not be a full-service operation, he said.

He wasn’t sure how much such a ride would cost. “It depends on the cost of the boat and operating costs, among other things,” he said.

He declined to say whether union labor would be used, but did say all of the companies forming Aqua are nonunion.

The mood of the 40 people at the meeting seemed to support the idea of private business taking a shot at passenger-only ferries.

“It’s time for the public sector to step back and let the private operators try it,” said Alice Tawresey of Bainbridge Island, co-chairwoman of YES! Kitsap Passenger-Only Ferries.

Still, private operators would need to have strong partnerships with transit agencies and local governments to help with things like bus service to ferries and parking for commuters, Blackman said.

Tom Waggoner of Kingston noted that vote analysis showed strong support for the foot ferries on the north end of Bainbridge Island and in Kingston.

Overall, the vote was 38 percent for the tax-supported ferry plan and 62 percent against.

“It was a tax issue, not a passenger ferry issue,” Waggoner said.

The proposal would have raised sales taxes and motor vehicle excise taxes in Kitsap County.

“The MVET was the kiss of death,” said Richard Hayes, executive director of Kitsap Transit.

Interest in foot ferries is growing in areas outside of Kitsap County, judging from comments at the meeting.

Dave Williams of Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island said that city hopes to rebuild a 320-foot pier for tour boats and passenger-only service.

Bruce Agnew, Cascadia Project director at the Discovery Institute, said there is interest in a water taxi service between the University of Washington and South Lake Union.

And Tom Jones, representing North Puget Sound, said local tribes are applying for a $750,000 grant to look into economic development from increased ferry service.

“While the business plans for fast passenger ferries will vary in north, central and south Puget Sound, the goals are the same — connecting shoreside communities and expanding housing, tourism and other employment opportunities for future generations as well as the maritime industry,” Agnew said in an e-mail message.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided funding for the Cascadia Project, which helped organized the coalition.