By Charlie Bermant Peninsula Daily News
PORT TOWNSEND — After a summer of two-boat ferry service between Port Townsend and Coupeville, the route is down to a single vessel, the MV Salish.
On Tuesday, the Salish resumed its winter schedule, making 10 round trips across Admiralty Inlet and offering daily service between 6:30 a.m. and 9:15 p.m.
This summer, it operated on the route with the MV Kennewick.
The MV Chetzemoka, the third in the Kwa-di Tabil class of ferries that has been in operation for almost two years, began on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route but moved to the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route in January 2011, when the Kennewick went into service.
The Kennewick is now undergoing maintenance at Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island, for about three weeks after which time, it will return to the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.
The Salish will then move to the Point Defiance route while the Chetzemoka has scheduled maintenance.
After that, the Salish will become the “on call” vessel that will substitute for those needing repair, according to George Capacci, Washington State Ferries deputy chief of operations and construction.
Having two boats in service through the summer months helped downtown businesses, Christine Pivarnik, city of Port Townsend marketing director.
“Downtown had a good summer,” she said.
“We worked really hard to get the two boats, and I hope they don’t cut this back,” she said, adding that “it would also be helpful to have later hours available so people can stay longer for festivals.”
Two-boat service began in May this year, but the timing could change in 2013.
A proposal to cut back eight weeks of two-boat service beginning in September 2013 is under consideration and could be implemented as a cost-cutting measure, Capacci said.
The cuts proposed by Washington State Ferries would carve four-weeks of two-boat service from both the fall and spring “shoulder seasons,” times of the year that lie between times of heavy tourist activity.
The preliminary proposal will go to the governor to be considered for her budget proposal in December, and a final decision would be made by the state Legislature.
A pilot program of offering later boats while discontinuing a midday sailing also took place this year and will be considered for the development of future schedules, ferry chief David Moseley has said.
Main Street Executive Director Mari Mullen said that merchants will notice a difference in traffic with one-boat service.
“One of the impacts of going down to one ferry from two is the reduction we see in foot traffic. It affects the walk-on travelers who come for the day,” Mullen said.
“I’ve heard it said that it would be valuable to have the two ferries for two more months of service, through December, to strengthen the connection during the holidays.”
Capacci said that one 64-car ferry will be able to handle the travel demand on the route.
“We will be able to accommodate all of the passengers who need to cross,” he said.
For those who want to make sure they’ll make a certain sailing, a reservation system is in place. For more information, go to www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/.
Bill LeMaster, co-owner of Lehani’s Deli and Coffee, said he enjoys the feeling of the town when there are fewer visitors on the streets.
“We had a really nice summer, and I’m OK with it when things slow down,” he said.
“It has a different personality, and you see the return of the locals, and there is a different pace.
“I will miss the income, though.”