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Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Commuter group wants Kingston-Seattle foot ferry, may start its own

Seattle Times staff reporter

Commuters who used to take the passenger ferry from Kingston to downtown Seattle have banded together and may make a pitch to begin a new ferry service.

"I think we have a viable plan, but we need money," said Nels Sultan, who heads Kingston Express, a nonprofit corporation that is trying to put together a plan to provide foot-ferry service between Kingston and Seattle.

Aqua Express, a business consortium, holds the permit for the service — and has applied for an extension — but it shut down 18 months ago because of lower ridership and high fuel costs.

Meanwhile, Kitsap Transit has been pushing to finance passenger ferries, but voters have twice turned down ballot measures to raise taxes to operate foot ferries.

Dick Hayes, director of Kitsap Transit, said the county may float yet another ballot measure for the ferries through an increase in the motor-vehicle excise tax. "It's really uphill to pass this on a full-county basis," he said.

But no one has any money right now to do anything.

The Port of Kingston just applied for a $3.5 million federal grant it hopes could be used to contribute to passenger-ferry service.

"It's a long shot," said port director Mike Bookey. "A lot of people are competing for it and some better politically connected than Kingston. But if you don't try, you don't have a chance."

If Kingston could get the money, which could be used to buy passenger ferries, it's not clear the money would go to Sultan's group. It could go to Aqua Express, or another company or government entity.

Sultan said Kingston Express does not support extension of the Aqua Express permit, which would be its fourth extension.

Dan Kermode, with the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, said the permit expired June 4, and Aqua Express has asked for a two-year extension. By law, the permit can be extended for just one year, and Kermode said the UTC will look at the request very carefully. A hearing is set for July 18.

"For each prior extension there were concrete tangible possibilities for resumption of service. This one has slipped into the intangible, looking into the future," Kermode said.

Sultan envisions a small ferry that will begin with 80 passengers a day, growing by one passenger a week. The service could break even with 500 passengers, he said.

He compares his group to a cooperative preschool, where everyone works together. He thinks he could get by with a crew of one or two, a captain and maybe someone to take tickets.

He said tickets would be about $10 round-trip, which is still cheaper than taking the car ferry to Edmonds and catching the Sounder commuter train to Seattle.

Sultan said his ferry plan would probably cost between $2 million and $3 million and said it's conceivable, but unlikely, that the ferry could be operating this year.

He said the $3.5 million requested by the Port of Kingston "should be plenty, in theory, to buy a very basic ferry and offer a bare-bones level of service until we break even in five years."

"Aqua Express was a great service," said Sultan, who commutes daily to his engineering job in downtown Seattle. "We'd love to have it back."

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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