Monthly Archives: July 2016

Ferry ridership up, but what if there hadn’t been fare increases

Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun Lots of big boats, including two ferries and a cruise ship, accent the Seattle scene this weekend under bright skies. Expect more picturesque days this week as forecasts call for sunny skies and highs in the 70s.

Ferry ridership continues to grow, though not at the pace of a year ago.

During the past quarter ending June 30, Washington State Ferries carried 1.4 percent more people than in the same period last year. Passengers were up 1.9 percent jump, drivers just 0.8 percent.

Planner Ray Deardorf in January predicted, based on traffic forecasts, that the boats would tail off from their 2.9 percent jump in 2015. He expected growth of 0.5 to 1 percent per year.

“I’m certainly not disappointed in a 1.4 percent increase,” he said, “especially looking back a few years when we were seeing declining riders.”

They lost riders because they cranked up ticket prices, some years by 20 percent, after losing a major revenue source — license tabs — in 2000. After fare increases stabilized at about 2.5 percent a year, ridership hit bottom in 2012 and has climbed the past three years.

How far can it go?

We’re 3 million away from the peak of 26.8 million in 1999. That should be reachable. The population has boomed since then. Eight new boats have replaced smaller ones, or will in the near future. There’s room on the ferries, though you wouldn’t know it at Kingston on a Sunday afternoon. Three-hour waits are not uncommon. People actually sit in their cars on the side of the highway for three hours.

There’s a huge westward flush on Friday, a back flow east on Sunday. Boats are packed with workers an hour or two each weekday morning and evening, but most of the time there’s space. It’s just that most people have inflexible schedules that are pretty similar. It’d be nice if the crowds could be spread out, or have more sailings during peak times and fewer when it’s not busy. That would probably require peak-time pricing, or more boats, bigger docks and a lot more money.

I don’t foresee those busy times changing. You avoid them when possible, otherwise that’s just part of riding the ferries.

Before the whole funding mess started, ferry trips were the best deal going. Now the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

In 1999, a round-trip passenger ticket cost $1.85. Car-and-driver fare was $6.50 each way. If accounting just for inflation, those prices would be $2.59 and $9.10 today. That doesn’t even seem possible. I wonder what ridership would be at those prices. Instead, after a decade of exaggerated fare hikes, they’re $8.20 and $14.60 (we won’t count the peak-season surcharge). Four bucks each way to walk on still seems reasonable. Taking a car is getting to expensive for many people.

Ticket revenue paid for about 60 percent of operating costs back when prices were so low. Now it’s at about 73 percent.

I’ve heard people say if tickets cost less, more people would ride and they’d make more money. It doesn’t work that way. Yes, fare hikes do cost them riders, but not enough so they don’t pay off. They would make no sense otherwise. There does come a point where prices are so high that they lose so many riders that they begin losing money, but it’s out there a ways.

Back to the quarterly numbers, locally, Bremerton (-4.3 percent), Bainbridge Island (-1.9 percent) and Southworth (-1.5 percent) all lost vehicle traffic compared to last year. Only Kingston, at 0.7 percent, grew. Part of the reason could be the disaster of trying to drive near Seattle’s Colman Dock.

WSF’s Deardorf also noted the numbers might indicate a decade-long decline of commuters might be bottoming out.

RIDERS SINCE LOSS OF MVET
1999 — 26,821,231
2000 — 26,701,706 (-0.4%)
2001 — 26,109,530 (-2.2%)
2002 — 25,141,467 (-3.7%)
2003 — 24,376,276 (-3.0%)
2004 — 24,092,336 (-1.2%)
2005 — 23,817,366 (-1.1%)
2006 — 23,937,546 (0.5%)
2007 — 23,709,097 (-1.2%)
2008 — 22,732,794 (-4.1%)
2009 — 22,737,710 (0.0%)
2010 — 22,451,404 (-1.3%)
2011 — 22.230,041 (-1.2%)
2012 — 22,201,496 (-0.1%)
2013 — 22,537,029 (1.5%)
2014 — 23,193,660 (2.7%)
2015 — 23,882,327 (2.9%)

‘SK Rides’ bus service becoming more useful

Kitsap Transit continues to refine its SK Rides service to address riders’ requests.

The service, which enables residents in the Old Clifton Road area to reserve trips with their phones or tablets, will begin offering rides to the Port Orchard passenger ferry on Monday.

Residents suggested trips to the 6:30 a.m. boat to get them to work in Bremerton. The agency responded by bumping back SK Ride’s start time from 6:30 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. and offering direct rides to the dock until 8 a.m., said spokesman Sanjay Bhatt.

Three months ago, the agency added direct trips to the Sedgwick 76 gas station, where riders can meet the Bremerton-Kitsap Airporter, followed a month later with a stop at the Sedgwick Fred Meyer store, where they can transfer to the No. 8 Bethel route, Bhatt said.

The bus already connected to the No. 4 Tremont route at Harrison Medical Center or Old Clifton Road, and to the No. 5 Sidney route at Sedgwick Albertsons or Cedar Heights Junior High. It also serves Bremerton National Airport and Olympic View Industrial Center.
Trips must begin and end in the service area, which centers around McCormick Woods, Sunnyslope, The Ridge and McCormick Meadows.

Ridership has grown from 20 in November, when it was introduced, to 147 as destinations expanded and people became aware of it. When the bus isn’t booked, it pulls double duty running Access service.

It’s Kitsap Transit’s first route to offer Uber-like digital reservations. Riders download the TapRide application, select “Kitsap” and register their phone number. Then they’re able to click on a map where they want to be picked up and dropped of. The driver, who’s following along on a monitor in the bus, responds with an estimated pickup time. The cost is $2 full fare and $1 for seniors, youths and disabled people.

It’s easy to use, said Roger Gay, who attends transit board meetings and often asks for updates on SK Ride. He was picked up at the airport and delivered to the Sedgwick Albertson, where he hopped a routed bus to the foot ferry. He believes it should be much more popular.

“It works. It’s a nice system,” he said. “It’s just that not that many people are aware that it is available and that easy.

“To have bus service 24/7, seven days a week, throughout the county would be impossible. It’s too expensive. But having something like this for rural areas is going to be one of the best ways to go, and something the county really needs.”

Transit officials devised similar hybrid services on Bainbridge Island and in Pouslbo.