Kitsap Transit chief takes risk with ferries
Seattle Times staff reporter
They rejected the measure by a wide margin.
It would have been easy for Hayes to retreat to the buses and van pools he is charged with operating and leave the foot ferries alone.
Instead, he worked with private operators, and beginning Monday, a privately operated passenger ferry between Bremerton and Seattle will begin operation.
"I think Dick deserves a lot of the credit for putting this together," said Greg Dronkert, president of Pacific Navigation, which is operating the Bremerton boats. "He's not your typical bureaucrat. He focuses on solutions. Dick Hayes is a doer."
Dronkert said he is astounded that his company is ready to begin service less than a year after the state pulled out of the passenger-ferry business.
Hayes has been executive director of Kitsap Transit since 1982, when the agency took over local bus service from private operators and the city of Bremerton. During his years as director, the number of Kitsap Transit riders has increased from 600,000 in 1982 to 6.5 million last year.
"Kitsap County is blessed with incredibly talented leadership," said Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman. "What separates Dick Hayes is he's a skilled entrepreneur and a big-time risk taker."
When Bremerton went shopping for a buyer for a new office building that is part of its downtown renaissance, they turned to Hayes, who purchased it for Kitsap Transit.
He figures the agency can make enough money by moving into the second floor and renting out the rest of the three-story building. Starbucks has moved into the street-level space and is paying, Hayes said, the highest rent of any property in downtown Bremerton.
Hayes, 62, grew up in Seattle, attending St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore for eight years, where he majored in medieval philosophy. That, he said, makes him a killer crossword-puzzle solver.
He received a master's degree in social work from the University of Washington, and he said it was then a natural move into transit. When he went to work for Tacoma Transit, he was in charge of transporting elderly and disabled passengers.
Hayes worked as acting director of Pierce Transit, but thought it was too political and jumped at the chance to move across the water to Kitsap Transit.
He acknowledged he is a risk taker and a "raving optimist." He led construction of the transportation center in Bremerton where the ferries dock, while overseeing buses throughout the agency's 340 square miles of roads.
When the ferry vote failed — an outcome he expected — he worked with Pacific Navigations, which will operate the new Bremerton route as Kitsap Ferry, and Aqua Express, which plans a passenger-ferry operation between Kingston and Seattle. With Kitsap Transit's blessing, the companies won state permits to operate passenger ferries. Kitsap Transit had exclusive rights to the routes but relinquished them to the private operators after setting service standards, which the operators must meet to keep the routes.
"I kiddingly refer to him as becoming the potential transportation czar for Puget Sound," said Darrell Bryan, general manager for Clipper Navigation, a partner in Aqua Express.
Bryan said it would have been easy for Hayes to step away from the foot-ferry battle after voters turned down the ballot measure last year, but he persevered.
"The amount of time it took to put this together is incredible," Bryan said.
Jim Boldt, spokesman for Aqua Express, said Hayes is "the antithesis of a public manager. He could be running a downtown Seattle food bank. He's committed to those folks on the Kitsap Peninsula."
There is no guarantee, of course, that the new foot ferries will make a profit, and Hayes realizes that. But he thinks having the ferry service is a gamble worth taking.
"The fast foot ferries are critical," said U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Tacoma. "[Hayes'] work was crucial to bring the private sector in. This is clearly the right think."
When not working, Hayes likes to tinker with the historic house he bought in Port Orchard, and he loves to kayak.
He watches the changes happening in Bremerton with pride, realizing some won't come easy.
"Some people are upset because of change," he said. "I've done nothing but change my whole life."
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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