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Kingston passenger ferry riders crave consistency
KINGSTON — The Spirit of Kingston sailed for Seattle Tuesday, within a minute of its 6:40 a.m. scheduled departure time. It was a good start for the Port of Kingston's passenger ferry service, which resumed this week after a six-month hiatus. But to attract a steady crowd of commuters, SoundRunner will need to be punctual day in and day out.
"The most important thing for commuters is consistency and reliability," said Carol Maziarz, one of 41 passengers and about 20 commuters on the ferry Tuesday. "The proof will be consistency."
Reliability was a stumbling point for SoundRunner last fall. The service launched in October and was cancelled a month later after a month of stormy weather, breakdowns and frequent cancellations.
The port relaunched the ferry Tuesday with a fairer weather outlook, new management and several months of study by a voluntary advisory committee to draw from. SoundRunner makes two daily roundtrips to Seattle on weekdays and several special event trips are planned.
Commuter Nels Sultan, a longtime passenger ferry advocate, said last fall's false start was frustrating, but he's impressed by the new approach.
"The port has a lot of good people working hard at it, and I appreciate their efforts," he said.
SoundRunner needs about 100 daily passengers to break even financially. The advisory committee estimated it could attract an average of five new riders each month. While ridership grows, the port has pledged to subsidize the service with up to $200,000 each year for the next four years.
At $14 per round trip, the ferry is roughly twice the price of Washington State Ferries. But some commuters find SoundRunner can save them time and hassle.
John Blanchard of Suquamish said he'd rather pay more to avoid ferry traffic.
"My overall goal is to never set foot on Bainbridge Island again, just because of congestion," the Harborview Medical Center employee said.
SoundRunner's biggest challenge may be attracting return riders from Seattle.
A handful of visitors boarded the ferry in Seattle Tuesday for the morning return trip to Kingston.
Among them was Pierre Sundborg, who has made it a mission to ride every transit route in Seattle.
Most riders on the east side of Puget Sound aren't familiar with attractions in Kingston, or Kitsap County for that matter, he said.
"It's very much in the hands of Kingston people to advertise a little bit," Sundborg said.
New SoundRunner manager Meisha Rouser said port staff and volunteers are meeting with community groups and businesses to find creative ways of marketing the service to Eastsound residents. Rouser met recently with representatives of Olympic Property Group, which manages Port Gamble, and the Suquamish Tribe's Port Madison Enterprises, to discuss ways of bringing visitors to their venues.
Special event, weekend and midday trips are also being planned to attract both West Sound and East Sound riders.
"The success of this program will depend on the community," Rouser told riders Tuesday. "They need to start using these boats."