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Originally published Monday, October 18, 2010 at 11:16 AM

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New ferry service begins between Port Townsend, Seattle

New ferry begins service Monday between Kingston and downtown Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Port of Kingston Soundrunner passenger ferry between Kingston and downtown Seattle

Schedule: Leaves Kingston at 5:55 and 7:40 a.m. and leaves Seattle at 6:50 and 7:35 a.m. Returns to Kingston at 5:15 and 7 p.m. Leaves Kingston at 4:20 and 6:05 p.m.

Fare: $15 round-trip, $10 one-way for adults. $10 round-trip for youths, $7.50 round-trip for seniors. $275 unlimited commuter pass.

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Judith Hoyle lives in Port Townsend and works in downtown Seattle, and, until Monday, would catch a ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle for her job.

On Monday she rode the new Port of Kingston passenger ferry, the Spirit of Kingston, on its inaugural voyage. And she's a huge fan.

She figures the new ferry will save her an hour and a half commute each day. "If it works out it's a godsend," she said.

About 150 people rode the ferry Monday morning between Seattle and Kingston, feted with free food and coffee. Many were commuters, some were politicians and others just wanted to ride the boat because it was free.

"I'm banking on this thing taking off," said Eric Walter, an architect who works in downtown Seattle.

Walter was one of many commuters who used to take the private Aqua Express passenger ferry between Kingston and downtown Seattle. But five years ago, just 10 months after it began, Aqua Express shut down the service, citing high fuel costs and low ridership.

It remains to be seen how viable the new route will be.

The Spirit will use only 80 gallons of fuel an hour, compared with 300 gallons used by the Aqua Express. It also has a smaller crew.

Eric Osnes, ferry program manager for the Port of Kingston, said the port's financial model called for about 100 passengers the first day with a steadily increasing ridership. The service, with one ferry and a backup boat, has been dubbed the Sound Runner.

"We're committed to it or we wouldn't be doing it," said Osnes. "Our challenge is to convince commuters we are going to stay here and convince them to take a chance on us and change their commuting routine."

Osnes said the operating costs for the ferry are about $2,400 a day. "The bottom line is we need 300 passengers consistently, two full boats. If we can do that we'll break even. Maybe we'll be at that point in a couple of years."

The Port won a $3.5 million federal grant it used to buy the two boats. It also received $150,000 from the state from the sale of its passenger vessels when the state got out of the foot-ferry business.

The port also made money by chartering the boats this summer. And it hopes to continue to charter the boats on weekends when they're not on the commuting run.

The boat can carry 149 passengers and a crew of three.

Several legislators and Port of Kingston officials rode the boat Monday. "It's wonderful," said Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo. "I hope the community supports it."

Port Commissioner Pete DeBoer said, "I'm stoked. We didn't have to lay one cubic yard of asphalt to do this."

Sonny Woodward, a realtor with John L. Scott in Kingston, also was on board and he said he hopes the new ferry will push people to buy homes in Kingston. He said a waterfront house that might cost $1.2 million on Bainbridge Island could be purchased for about $850,000 in Kingston.

"We want to be the poster child," he said. "If this works we'll add to our population base."

Nancy Stich, who works at Swedish Medical Center, used to drive to Bainbridge and take the state-run ferry to Seattle, walking up the hill to Swedish. Stich, who lives in Kingston, figures she'll save an hour a day with the Spirit of Kingston. "An hour a day is huge," she said. She also used to ride the Aqua Express and was devastated when it shut down. "This is a civilized way of commuting," she said.

Osnes said he will sell food on the boat and hopes to get a beer and wine permit. Eventually there will be free Wi-Fi on the ferry.

The crossing is about 45 minutes and there are two boats leaving Kingston each morning and two leaving Seattle in the late afternoon and evening.

Some riders said the $15 round-trip fare seemed a little steep.

But Andrew Crawford used to take the Kingston-Edmonds ferry and he would either drive to Seattle or take the Sounder. "I had the worst of all worlds," he said. Crawford, who lives in Kingston, figures he may save an hour and a half in commuting time with the new port boat. And it's cheaper than putting his car on the state-run ferry and paying for gas.

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

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