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"Mosquito Fleet crowd small, but positive on run to Seattle"
"Captain and owner Michael Bennett greets passengers boarding the Commuter Express.Jim Larsen / staff photoThe crowd waiting for the boat in Clinton Thursday morning wasn't as big as Mosquito Fleet would like, but the passengers were enthusiastic about the trial commuter trips to Seattle.Everett-based Mosquito Fleet operated a test run between Everett/Clinton/Edmonds and Seattle each day last week, and by Thursday the trend was obvious. At this rate, the company couldn't break even, let alone make money, on a regularly scheduled passenger-only ferry. The 150-passenger boat averaged about 40 passengers over the five days.However, there were enough positive signs for Mosquito Fleet to continue promoting a permanent passenger-ferry service in Puget Sound.As he greeted passengers boarding the Commuter Express, Mosquito Fleet's Bob Isaacson said that day's crowd was pretty good. But if the company ever implemented service for real, it would need more passengers and a public subsidy of some sort. A public-private partnership, as Isaacson described it.Those who took the boat trip that left Clinton each morning at 6:50 were enthusiastic about the service. As they stepped aboard the Commuter Express, they could see their friends and neighbors driving aboard the nearby car ferry. Those folks would have to ride the car ferry to Mukilteo, drive 20-plus miles through rush hour traffic to downtown Seattle, and pay for parking when they got there.The Commuter Express crowd, in contrast, could sit back in comfortable chairs, read a newspaper, sip coffee, and enjoy the scenery all the way to Seattle.Walt Hendricks was boarding the boat for his third trip to Seattle. It's delightful, he said.It saves us two hours' commute time, added Patti Caione. They were both going to Edmonds.Hendricks' only complaint, which he good naturedly reported, was that he and one other passenger were left on the dock in Edmonds on Tuesday. They arrived a bit late and the boat couldn't wait.Isaacon, referring to the complaint, said the boat waits one minute after the scheduled departure time. It has to meet the Island Transit bus at the Clinton ferry dock.Richard Everett was also making his third trip on Thursday. It's great, he said. As a retiree, he said he would use the service intermittently if it ever became permanent.One face in Thursday's crowd was very familiar to people who have followed the passenger-only ferry discussions over the past decade. Marty Behr, former president of Mosquito Fleet, was delighted to be going to Seattle directly by water. Behr is no longer associated with Mosquito Fleet, but his efforts to promote passenger ferries were partly responsible for the Port of South Whidbey's remodeling of the Clinton Recreational Pier to accommodate such boats.It's something I hope will take root and become a permanent fixture, Behr said, describing the $16 round-trip fare as reasonable for Whidbey Island. He said that amount is comparable to ferry, gas and parking costs for a motorist. Upon reaching Seattle, he reported by cell phone that the trip was far superior to another hectic commute by car. It's how you feel when you get here, when you cruise gently into Elliot Bay, he said. It's a revelation, a totally different experience.Michael Bennett, Mosquito Fleet owner, dropped off his passengers in Seattle on Thursday morning and proceeded to pilot the boat to Gig Harbor, where he was going to pick up a boatload of demonstrators to bring to Olympia. They planned to ask legislators to provide more support to state ferries.Mosquito Fleet plans one more demonstration before it returns to its meat-and-potatoes business of whale watching trips. On Feb. 28 the boat will leave Oak Harbor Marina at 9 a.m. with stops in Coupeville, Langley, Clinton and Everett. The future for Mosquito Fleet's passenger-ferry dream is uncertain. Bennett said he would like to arrange a six-month trial starting next fall, but that will require public support.This is the first step, Bennett said of last week's trial. There's nothing like a hands-on experience.Bennett expressed little concern over the mostly-empty boat. It takes time to build ridership, he said.According to Behr, studies done in the early '1990s indicate 700 people from Whidbey Island go to Seattle each day for a variety of reasons.The next step will be more realistic, Bennett said. We can't lose money for long. "