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Originally published Sunday, August 7, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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The perfect storm comes to Vashon

The way Washington state officials have been grappling with what to do about its passenger-only ferry service is a perfect example of why...

The way Washington state officials have been grappling with what to do about its passenger-only ferry service is a perfect example of why people grow frustrated with government.

Political will is clashing with the reality of limited resources, so the state's actions seem to defy common sense.

Washington State Ferries announced last week it was cutting back service on its lone passenger-only ferry route between Seattle and Vashon. The governor also announced members of a new passenger-only task force to study whether to expand the very route it is cutting back.

No kidding.

Two years ago, the Legislature decided to get out of the passenger-only ferry business, at the suggestion of ferry officials, and passed legislation permitting private companies to apply for authority to fill the void. A couple did — one replacing the state's Seattle-Bremerton run and another starting a new run between Seattle and Kingston.

Things happen, though.

The ferry director left, the transportation secretary changed his mind, and the Republican-controlled Senate went to the Democrats. The ferry system suggested expanding the Seattle-Vashon foot-ferry service with a jog over to Southworth, creating a triangular route.

A compromise between the disagreeing House and Senate transportation chairs resulted in that favored way of delaying a solution — the task force. At the same time, the Legislature cut funding for Seattle to Vashon, resulting in the ending of five of eight foot-ferry weekday departures from each end, beginning next month.

Meantime, action on state applications by private companies to serve a Seattle-Southworth run is deferred, thoroughly jerking around the enterprising firms, which two years ago were invited to jump in.

Even with a new federal commitment to ferry capital projects, the reality is more money is not on the way for state transportation operations.

This scenario seems even more illogical when you consider one reason why state officials believe they should remain in the passenger-only ferry business: The state is more reliable than private operators.

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