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Give SoundRunner adequate time | Editorial
Kingston port commissioners were wise to not pull the plug on SoundRunner on Sept. 26. But the reprieve they gave the passenger ferry service is shortsighted.
The Port of Kingston revived the Kingston-to-Seattle passenger ferry May 31 with the understanding it would take about four years to build ridership to the point where SoundRunner would be self-sustaining. SoundRunner has used up its first-year port subsidy, and that has commissioners worried.
As the old saying goes, you’ve got to spend money to make money. The commission contributed $213,000 in matching funds for a federal grant, and received $764,000 for boat and dock improvements. Some of the funds will be used to join a regional fare system that allows one method of payment for several transit systems. The system, One Regional Card for All, or ORCA, is sure to boost ridership with the convenience it provides.
The average number of round-trip commuters during the week — at 26, according to Chairman Marc Bissonette — is not enough to sustain the service. But it’s going to take longer than the commission’s target date of Dec. 20 to more than double ridership. Stop the service now, or go seasonal, and SoundRunner will never get commuters back. SoundRunner is trying to attract commuters from Jefferson County who currently ride the bus to Poulsbo, transfer onto a Kitsap Transit bus to Bainbridge, then walk onto the ferry to Seattle. Taking a bus to Kingston and walking onto SoundRunner will save them time, but it’s going to take consistency, dependability and marketing to lure those commuters.
SoundRunner is a member of the North Kitsap Tourism Consortium and is in a good position to attract more visitors from the mainland next spring and summer; this year, SoundRunner resumed service after most people had made travel plans.
Other revenue generators for SoundRunner: special events and leasing the service’s backup boat. SoundRunner offers weekend trips to Seattle for sports events. The 3rd of July boat to Poulsbo for the fireworks show was sold out.
SoundRunner can be a vital link to the mainland that will contribute to economic development in Kingston. But it needs more than six months from startup to prove itself. The Port of Kingston should hold its course through SoundRunner’s first 12 months of operation. It will then have a good data set to analyze, and can set new benchmarks and adjust its subsidy accordingly.