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Originally published Monday, December 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bremerton ferries' backup: foot boats

The state Department of Transportation has officially told Seattle-Bremerton ferry riders what they can expect when a car ferry is "borrowed" from their route to serve another route in an emergency.

BREMERTON — The state Department of Transportation has officially told Seattle-Bremerton ferry riders what they can expect when a car ferry is "borrowed" from their route to serve another route in an emergency.

Two car ferries serve the route, but one of them is sometimes diverted to serve elsewhere if another boat unexpectedly has to be pulled from service.

The new "emergency service disruptions" plan calls for Washington State Ferries (WSF) to contract two passenger-only vessels, with a capacity of 149 passengers each, to take up the slack if one of the car ferries is temporarily pulled from the Bremerton-Seattle route.

But the plan also contains a caveat.

"While WSF will make every effort to provide two-boat passenger-only service as soon as possible ... there may be times when we will continue to operate service for a period with only one vehicle ferry," the plan states.

The plan says the Bremerton route is often the one that has to give up one of its boats in an emergency, because it has more walk-on passengers and more connections to other transit systems compared with other ferry terminals.

Joan Dingfield, a member of the Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee and the Ferry Advisory Executive Committee, said it was positive to have a plan in place, but she added that the Bremerton- Seattle run is just one piece of the ferries puzzle.

"I am not as concerned about this plan as much as the long-range plan," she told the Kitsap Sun newspaper. That plan predicts that without changes in its current operations, the ferry system will be $3.5 billion short of what it needs to replenish its fleet by 2030.

She said she expects the state will propose a major adjustment to the system, including cutting service and raising fares.

"They have to," Dingfield said. "There's no money."

Raising fares and eliminating runs on some routes still would not fill the hole, the report concludes.

The draft plan also suggests the state postpone construction of new 144-car boats until at least 2013 and build smaller ferries instead.

"It's the day of reckoning that's been coming for some time," Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said. "We have a lot of difficult discussions ahead with the Legislature."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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