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"Mayor mulls transit levyIf nothing else, it could restore the popular Winslow shuttle."
"How much would you pay to ride the bus?More precisely, how much would you pay so your neighbor could ride the bus too?Island voters may get the chance to decide, as several city officials mull the possibility of a local transit levy to restore some bus service on Bainbridge next year.We're being held hostage by off-island voters, Mayor Dwight Sutton said, and we can get out from under that.The idea of local transit funding comes after the failure in September of a three-tenths of a cent, countywide sales tax increase. That hike would have restored Kitsap Transit money lost to last year's Initiative 695 - 45 percent of the agency's operating and capital budget disappeared with elimination of the state Motor Vehicle Excise Tax.Even Tuesday morning, as voters headed to the polls to select a new president, Kitsap Transit was again under the ax - Initiative 745 would mandate that 90 percent of all state transportation funding be dedicated to highway construction and maintenance, once again curtailing funding for mass transit.Owing to the initiative's vagueness, the Legislature would be charged with figuring out how to allocate the dollars. It's also assumed that should the measure pass, it will immediately be challenged in court by local jurisdictions.Even so, Dick Hayes, director of Kitsap Transit, described Tuesday as a cross-your-fingers day.The kind of chaos I-695 caused, even though it was found unconstitutional, is something we'd like to not have to live through again, Hayes said.Local funding?Nevertheless, despite service cutbacks and fare hikes by the struggling agency, bus service on Bainbridge remains quite popular.Before Initiative 695, growth of Bainbridge bus ridership was such that commuter routes were likely to be split - with a new bus added to meet demand - at a rate of one per year. The Battle Point and Crystal Springs commuter runs were the next likely candidates.For smaller buses, Hayes said, Kitsap Transit needs to see an average of 10 riders per hour to keep a route viable. On Bainbridge, the numbers for September of this year were Battle Point, 33.3 per hour; Manzanita, 28.6; Crystal Springs, 26.2; Bill Point, 21.7; Fort Ward, 21; Sunrise, 16.5; and Agate Point, 16.1.The rate of growth up there was spectacular, Hayes said.In the last year, the growth of island ridership has stalled somewhat, and county-wide ridership has fallen off by 32 percent.With the agency's funding crisis, two factors came into play - fares were doubled, making a round trip into Winslow $4 - and the first and last runs of both morning and evening routes were cut.But while September's sales-tax measure garnered only 45 percent support countywide, it sailed through on Bainbridge - earning better than 70 percent support among island voters. That has city officials wondering whether a local transit levy - which could go on the ballot as early as next February - would also fare well.With an amount yet unspecified, the proposal is still in the thinking out loud stage. But at the very least, it could fully restore route No. 100, the Winslow Shuttle.The route runs a loop around downtown, connecting hubs as diverse as the Bethany Lutheran Church park and ride, and the cluster of retirement homes in the Parfitt Way area. It formerly ran throughout the day, but now leaves an eight-hour gap in the late morning and afternoon.Bainbridge Island City Council chair Merrill Robison, citing the needs of Winslow's older population, has emerged as an early champion of finding local dollars for bus service.Robison, who volunteers at the Chamber of Commerce office on Winslow Way every Friday, also said the shuttle would obviate parking problems for those coming from off island to get to the Winslow ferry terminal.These people come in, and they're frantic - 'where can I park?' I've got a doctor's appointment,' Robison said. About 20 percent of Kitsap Transit's operating costs are recouped through fares, with the balance made up through tax subsidies. Restoring the 100 bus to full service would be relatively cheap, Hayes said, requiring a subsidy of about $1,500 per week. But the driver-hours needed to restore early and late bus runs on the island's commuter routes would be 20-30 per day, probably outside the scope of a local levy.Agency officials will venture into local communities, including Bainbridge, as part of their budgeting process later this month. A community meeting on transit service here is tentatively slated for late November or early December.The agency may resort to dropping service altogether in the county's rural areas, to keep buses running in urban centers including the island. Funding agreements with cities, Hayes suggested, are preferred.Anything that makes sense, we'd be glad to look at, he said. "