Process and timing (image: Kitsap Transit)

Late last year, Kitsap Transit made news with the passage of its foot ferry initiative, which provided the funding to fulfill a long-standing dream of fast, cross-sound passenger service. For those paying attention to the less-sexy, workhorse transit modes, however, news across the sound has been bad for years. Like every sales tax-dependent agency in Washington, KT took a haircut in the great recession, beginning in 2008.

In 2009, the agency responded in many of the ways familiar to those of us who remember King County Metro circa 2010-2013: raising fares, deleting routes, reducing almost all the remaining routes. Unlike Metro, KT never took the high-pain, high-gain opportunity to rethink the structure of the bus network, leaving riders with a network of mostly circuitous, infrequent routes and some incomprehensible schedules.

The intervening eight years have not got well for KT, or their bus riders. After a predicable initial decline from the cuts and the recession, annual ridership has been stagnant since 2010. Much more worryingly, this stagnant ridership comes on increasing levels of service, as sales tax revenue has crept back up; the productivity of the bus network is declining, which suggests the bus network is structurally failing in some way.

While Kitsap county has not experienced anything like Seattle’s residential or employment growth, it’s a part of our booming city’s commuter belt, with a natural advantage to non-car modes: even without considering the upcoming foot ferry service, it’s much cheaper and easier to walk on to a Seattle-bound ferry at Bainbridge or Bremerton, than it is to drive on.

While the analogy is not perfect, the agency’s situation most reminds me of Pierce Transit in 2011: a tax-hostile electorate, a benefit area dominated by transit-hostile land-use patterns, and increasing costs have put the agency in sustained decline, at a time when it should be growing. Fortunately, KT’s leaders seem to have realized the severity of their case, and are going to the public with an outreach effort that sounds quite fundmental in scope:

Kitsap Transit is conducting a comprehensive analysis of our current bus service that will incorporate:

  • Community input gathered at in-person workshops, an online open house and an on-board survey
  • Data on current ridership patterns
  • Projected population growth in Kitsap County

The purpose of the analysis is to understand how our buses currently connect riders to neighborhoods, city centers, social and community services and ferries. We want to hear from a broad group of transit users and community members, including people who might not use transit now. We are also committed to working with those in the community who are dependent on transit.

More after the jump.

The changes prefigured in the outreach materials sound pretty good to me:

Proposed corridors for improvement (Image: Kitsap Transit)
  • Increase frequency of weekday service on existing routes.
  • Run buses on Sunday.
  • Show real-time arrival information at bus stops.
  • Construct additional park-and-ride lots.
  • Add new routes to get you where you want to go.
  • Implement frequent transit service along designated corridors to attract new customers.
  • Become a leader in developing transit‐oriented design along designated corridors to improve transit access.
  • Sustain financial capacity to maintain and improve services and facilities.
  • Provide safe, reliable and efficient transportation choices that enhance the quality of life in Kitsap County.
  • Offer robust, reliable and sustainable foot ferry services.

Whether these are to be funded by modifying existing service, or asking voters to raise the transit sales tax rate from .8% to .9%, isn’t specified in the outreach materials. There is, however, a great report from Nelson\Nygaard which digs into the gory details of the status quo.

If you have thoughts what you’d like to see from Kitsap Transit’s bus service, take the online “build your own transit system” survey, email, or attend one of three upcoming open houses:

Wednesday, May 17
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
South Kitsap Fire & Rescue Station 8
1974 Fircrest Dr SE, Port Orchard

Monday, May 22
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Sheridan Park Community Center
680 Lebo Blvd., Bremerton

Wednesday, May 31
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
North Viking Transit Center
21992 Viking Ave NW, Poulsbo

27 Replies to “Kitsap Transit Looks to Rethink Service and Revive Ridership”

  1. Some very important issues that come to my mind.

    First is timed connections. The buses that serve the ferries need to depart 5 minutes after the ferry arrives, not 20, with written assurances in the printed schedule that if the ferry is late, the bus will wait, and not leave everybody stranded for an hour or more, waiting until the next bus. The last time I checked, they did this on weekdays (at least during rush hour), but not on Saturdays. Every bus leaving the ferry really needs to be timed with the ferry for the entire span of service.

    Second is the very limited span of Saturday service. As it stands, taking the very first bus of the day to the Bainbridge Ferry and the last bus of the day back gives you about 6 hours between buses to ride the ferry round trip, ride KC Metro buses round trip on the other side of the sound AND do whatever it is you’re planning to do in Seattle, which is not very much time. In order to make the service usable, the span of service needs to extend into the evenings. Even weekdays, the last trip leaves Bainbridge Island around 8 PM, which makes it impossible to rely on the bus to get home when attending any evening event in downtown Seattle. I would actually argue that if push comes to shove, adding evening service Monday-Saturday is more important than adding daytime service on Sunday.

    Third is lack of a reliable backup option if you miss a bus and don’t have an hour to wait for another one. Uber nominally exists, but is too unreliable.

    Fourth is lack of real-time status information and OneBusAway support, which is extremely important for services that don’t run very frequently. It is much better to at least know when you’ve missed a bus and make alternate arrangements than it to stand at a bus stop for 20 minutes before giving up. At least Kitsap Transit buses are now visible to the Google trip planner. That did not used to be the case.

  2. When I lived in Kingston and visited the Kitsap Sun site on a nearly daily basis there was a steady complaint in the comments sections that they needed to bring back Sunday service.

  3. Kitsap Transit is at a natural disadvantage, relative to other suburban transit agencies: To get to Seattle, you have to pay a separate fare for the ferry. Even though Washington State Ferries is part of the ORCA pod, it is pretty much a participant in name only, not honoring multi-agency passes or transfers.

    So, transit riders may have to pay three times, once in Kitsap, a second time on the ferry, and a third time in Seattle. The cost advantages of taking transit across the Sound are dubious.

    The arrival of Kitsap cross-sound ferries will hopefully alter that math and force WSF to consider fare integration with the regional transit system.

    The politics of WSF fares come down to a perpetual split between two members of the Washington State Transportation Commission who want cheaper car fares and higher passenger fares, claiming non-car riders are somehow being subsidized, and two members who are more aware that the car decks are full while the passenger areas are nowhere near full, and limited only by availability of life rafts.

    The passenger fares might not need to be lower. But honoring PugetPass and transfers ought to incentivize taking the Kitsap bus, walking on, and leaving the car at home. That’s the only realistic path to increase capacity on WS Ferries.

    1. If the passenger ferries are included in the ORCA Regional Day Pass (of which Kitsap is already a part), it will open up a lot of neat day-trips for us mainlanders. Haven’t ever bothered taking a ferry to Kitsap because of the fare hassles, so the passenger ferries will be wonderful.

      1. But what’s the time limit on these transfers? The Seattle-Bremerton ferry is about an hour, so a one-hour transfer window means that Kitsap riders can’t actually use the transfer to metro. A Kitsap-King transfer needs more like a three-hour window.

  4. A few thoughts:

    #1. Well at least after last November, Kitsap Transit now has its own special fund to pay for the ferries it already was/is running between Port Orchard & Bremerton. I’m hopeful the fast ferry project this time is a success, it is NOT in our interests as transit advocates to see Kitsap Transit fail.

    #2. I took the Kitsap Transit survey, they did not give anywhere near enough budget to survey-takers. It’s a very poor survey.

    #3. The absence of Sunday Service is incredible. Something that must be fixed.

    1. There is no objective metric by which their passenger ferry service will be a success, except in comparing travel times to existing services. They should have worked with the state to convert Bremerton ferry to passenger only, but instead are going to try and sprinkle service county wide and duplicate existing Bremerton service. It’s loony.

    2. “There is no objective metric by which their passenger ferry service will be a success, except in comparing travel times to existing services.”

      That’s the point though. An hour’s travel time leads to a couple hour’s total trip, which means every round trip has four hours’ overhead which takes a significant chunk of the day. It also means the ferry can run only once every three hours, which means you have to time your trip to it, and if you miss the ferry or it’s so crowded you can’t get your car on you have to wait till the next one.

      At the same time you can’t eliminate the car ferry. There’s a navy base on the west side that constantly needs supplies and has people going to and from, and the cities on the west side need supplies too and people occasionally transport large things, or just need their car because they’re going somewhere without transit like the small towns and forests beyond Bremerton.

      1. And if you bought everyone personal boats it would be even faster! Levying a regressive tax on a very poor region to pay subsidies of up to $70 for 6 figure Seattle commuters is shameful.

  5. We live mostly in Bremerton walking distance to ferry, sometimes in Seattle. When in Seattle we seldom use a car, but thus far have never used a Bremerton bus. The one hour schedule is a non-starter for us, not that we drive all that much in Bremerton either.

    Our pattern conforms to what other friends do in the two cities. Kitsap transit is mostly used by commuters whose work schedule is invariable. For those who don’t have access to a car it is difficult. Hope we can do better.

  6. Wow, Kitsap Transit is sad. I looked through the report, and it is much worse than I thought.

    The system is mostly 60 minutes frequency wandering routes. But they have a lot of them, usually within a 1/4-mile of another route.

    The highest ridership line, the 11 (which is still less than 1,000 boardings per day) is a straight shot express connecting 3 transit centers. (Hint, hint, maybe the detours cost more riders than they gain via coverage)

    This is the sort of system that leads transit-skeptics to say cancel the whole thing, and subsidize Lyft rides.

    1. Being from here yes. You also should look at transfers required to critical destinations and there are many but locations need to be considered close to an area with potential for FTN.

      If you look at the reports, there is one thing that there is lacking and that is the d word of DENSITY.

      We also don’t have good layouts for a decent transportation network, a lot of discontinuous streets, regulations on building MDUs, lots and lots of commercial strip malls everywhere. I think changing the conversation will get people to really think outside the box but that will take time.

      When I get the chance, I’ll likely go into more depth but Bruce did a great job of outlining this and I couldn’t have done better myself.

      I will add though when it comes to WSF and ORCA discounting, the issue becomes revenue that is either being allocated for practices that were supposed to end (double time and travel to other terminals) and not funding maintenance. The state only allows this to make it easier but if ORCA integration is permitted on the fast ferries this produces an equality issue. Most people according to their market studies were making above average wages while being subsidized by taxpayers. Will we over here see benefits of gentrification? In some ways yes in some ways no. Bremerton’s downtown has become revitalized and I hope more multi-unit dwellings are planned where they should be and replacing the abundance of asphalt lots.

    2. I agree. Of all the transit agencies around Puget Sound, Kitsap is the only one that serves destinations (e.g Poulsbo) that I’ve actually wanted to visit without a car (sorry, Mason County…), but which I’ve never managed to make work for me.

      1. Although the Kitsap #90 schedule says Bainbridge-Poulsbo, the bus does not even go to what most folks think of as the core of Poulsbo–the main street/waterfront area. Instead it terminates at what looks like a brand new transit center way north of there, where those who want to go to the ‘real’ Poulsbo must change to #44 that serves the ‘central Poulsbo’ area, backtracking a good portion of the way. Found this out the hard way last month. Should have read the schedule more carefully.

      2. Need to be on those teeny little buses in order to navigate your way down Front St. to the Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse.

      3. Rather than wait for the shuttle vans just get off the #90 at either Hostmark or Lincoln and walk down to Front Street. It is roughly a 1/4 mile walk. Not too bad if the weather is decent.

    3. Ironically, the Bainbridge Ferry is the second-highest ridership transit line in the state, at 6,429,853 boardings last year, far surpassing Kitsap Transit’s ridership.

  7. Kitsap transit’s executive director and downtown Bremerton land owners are now mostly focused on their absurdly wasteful passenger ferry enterprise. Subsidies of $70 per round trip and they are going to take on debt to launch setice in…..Kingston and southworth, where about 400 people live.

    I doubt they will be solvent in 5 years.

    Their bus service is just sad, and isn’t going to get better.

    1. Improving connections to Seattle is generally agreed to be critical for the economic health of Bremerton. My preference would have been adding 2-3 ferry round trips. I still drool over the WWII era ferry schedule (available at the Kitsap Country Museum in downtown Bremerton). Very roughly think hourly ferry 5am to 1am, with a few extra at commuting time.

      The ferry has a number of advantages – the many tables, areas, cafeteria (despite all our complaints) makes it an hour of useful time. Most people have data plans on their phones so in addition to the always fascinating marine seascapes we can surf the web simultaneously. Fast ferry, think an economy plus airline seat.

      Ferries and fast ferries co-exist awkwardly – for landing spots, sharing Rich Passage, and the inherent problem that a commuter run to two different speeds means that you can only optimize starting or ending times compared to the slower more frequent ferries. Any math/transit nerd out their to better state this?

      I reluctantly voted for it. Most commuters going to Seattle were conflicted, and it did pass with a comfortable margin.

    2. Before trashing Kitsap for being wasteful, look at the geographic situation they have. Water bodies all over the fricking place, and all located right between where Kitsap residents are and where they want to go.

      How do you suggest a Kitsap resident get to Seattle if not ferries? Send a bus over the Narrows Bridge? Please.

      1. Kitsap county already has 4 ferries. That’s the point. If they want to dramatically increase development in southworth or kingston, I’m ok with it. Instead they are building a new sprawl and park and ride community. Nice job Kitsap.

    3. As far as “sad” bus service. last March Pierce Transit went from most routes hourly to most routes twice an hour, as well as adding evening service hours, mostly from consolidating closely spaced and overlapping routes. Kitsap has a lot of potential to do the same, so saying service won’t get better is just wrong.

    4. “Before trashing Kitsap for being wasteful, look at the geographic situation they have.”

      So Kitsap needs to be the independent small-town rural area it is rather than becoming a second Mercer Island bedroom community of exurban McMansions constantly commuting to Seattle.

      1. The Kitsap peninsula is in denial.

        They are following the path of the I-405 corridor.
        (except they dont have a perfectly good rail line to throw away)

        Waterfront property will be like Hunts Point and Medina, the rest of the slobs will live in Silverdale like splendor.

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