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Ahoy! Kingston foot-ferry sails

Commuters debark the Aqua Express ferry on the new Kingston-Colman Dock run. - JESSE BEALS/Staff photo
Commuters debark the Aqua Express ferry on the new Kingston-Colman Dock run.
— image credit: JESSE BEALS/Staff photo

KINGSTON – For the first time, the passengers stepping onto the foot-ferry docked in Kingston weren’t there for a demonstration run.

Most were commuters, going to work in Seattle, just like they would if they were taking their usual ride on the Bainbridge Island ferry.

In fact, many of these commuters were veterans of the Bainbridge-Seattle routine. But private ferry company Aqua Express hopes those riders will soon change their minds about which boat they’ll take from now on.

After a year of public meetings, surveys, permit applications, construction deadlines and pushed- back startup dates, Aqua Express officially launched Kingston’s first passenger-only service Jan. 18.

General manager Brian Grantham and his crew gave commuters a taste of what the ferry has to offer with free rides last Thursday and Friday at the Port of Kingston.

“We really want to take this,” said Kingston resident and commuter Brian Smith.

He and his wife Molly Stacy have been taking the Bainbridge Island ferry since they moved to Kingston five years ago, completing three-hour round trip commutes during the week to Seattle and back.

They moved to Kingston in anticipation of Washington State Ferries establishing a foot ferry in the mid-1990s, as did many others who came to the area within the past decade. The Kingston-Colman Dock route saw several “demonstration runs” over the years. But after Initiative 695 passed in 1999, the state abandoned foot-ferry service, and with it hopes for a WSF-managed direct route between North Kitsap and the big city.

At the same time, Kingston residents and business owners Tom Waggoner, Sonny Woodward, Kathleen Sutton and Billie Johnson were spearheading the effort to get some sort of fast ferry service started.

After a failed referendum, a failed proposal for ferry service by Kitsap Transit and lack of other funding sources, new legislation allowed private business to step up and fill a need no longer met by the state.

“It was just eight or nine years ago, talking about putting together the first demonstration day,” Woodward said, adding that they were working with Clipper Navigation at the time, which is now one of the Aqua Express partners. “Little did they know they were going to be a big part of the future. It’s been a long journey.”

Aqua Express’ boat, the old WSF vessel Tyee, has been outfitted with new seats, the interior has been reorganized to make it easier to get around and there will be food and drinks available for purchase.

While fares for the Aqua Express service are double that of taking a state ferry – $5.25 each way, compared to $5.70 for westbound passengers on the WSF run to Bainbridge – money is not a concern for Hansville resident Scott Masengill.

Time is.

“Yesterday, my commute round trip took four hours,” Masengill said. “Today, two hours. I spend more money, but I get two hours of my life back.”

Masengill’s neighbor Christi Massi, wasn’t happy with the $3 surcharge for bicycles in addition to the $5.25 passenger toll, saying she feels that it could discourage an environmentally friendly way to travel besides using the ferry.

“There is a big porch on the back of the boat and the state ferry made it work,” she said. “Maybe they’re afraid they’ll be inundated (with bikes).”

Masengill said he also would like to see a 5:30 p.m. ferry run from Seattle to Kingston, because of the logistics of either having to leave work early or late to catch a ferry.

“It doesn’t accommodate an eight-hour work day with a lunch break,” he said.

Currently, the sailing times from Kingston to Seattle are 5:30 a.m., 7:10 a.m., 8:50 a.m., 3:50 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. The times from Seattle to Kingston are 6:20 a.m., 8 a.m., 3 p.m., 4:40 p.m. and 6:20 p.m.

The 5:30 a.m. trip last Thursday had approximately 40 people on board, and it was nearly double that for the 7:10 a.m. commute, said Aqua Express General Manager Brian Grantham.

While he said commuters were enjoying the service, they were also studying to see if the new schedule will work for them.

Kitsap Transit has also adjusted its morning and afternoon bus schedules to accommodate the foot ferry sailings, and can be viewed at www.kitsaptransit.org.

The Port of Kingston encourages people to not park at the port, but to utilize the transit system or use the “kiss n’ ride” lot located where Kingston’s Restaurant at the Dock used to be.

For more information, see www.aqua-express.com.

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