The Port Townsend Leader has the scoop on a possible new foot ferry service:
The Port of Port Townsend has submitted a draft of their passenger-only ferry plan for feedback from the Federal Transit Agency. The plan would create a Port Townsend-Seattle route for recreation and business use, starting out from May through September. […]
According to the draft plan, the terminals would be located at the Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend and the Bell Harbor Marina, the heart of Seattle cruise ship operations. In order to compete with traditional ferry routes and other passenger-only ferries, the 42-mile crossing is planned to take 70-80 minutes.
The idea of such a service has been kicking around for many years, but it was the FTA’s unexpected award of a startup grant to the Port which has given the idea a chance at becoming reality. If it comes to fruition, such a ferry would provide a significant improvement to pedestrian and bike mobility in the region, and provide another great car-free getaway for Seattle-area residents.
The Port of Port Townsend‘s business plan seems to suffer none of the flaws which almost guaranteed the failure of the nearby Port of Kingston‘s ill-starred SoundRunner, which will cease at the end of this month. From the start, the Port has planned to provide no operating subsidy, for which there’s not likely to be a viable level of support in any taxing district in the Peninsula; the FTA grant is solely for capital improvements and boat procurement costs, and then the service must pay for itself. SoundRunner competed against a slower but cheaper (albeit also heavily subsidized) alternative commuter route, via the Kingston-Edmonds car ferry and north line Sounder; a pretty epic transit journey through Bainbridge is the only alternative between Seattle and Port Townsend.
More after the jump.
Perhaps most importantly, the primary target for this service will be travelers and visitors, rather than daily Seattle commuters (although there will be some of the latter). Port Townsend is a small town, but punches above its weight with some great restaurants and coffee shops, a busy art and culture scene, and a rare assemblage of beautiful Victorian architecture, all within walking distance of the waterfront. Thus, visitors on short getaways constitute a small but dependable market for this trip, and this choice of target market crucially allows for higher fares, a smaller boat, and a seasonal sailing pattern that hews closely to demand. All of these things are necessary, and, I hope, sufficient for the business plan to satisfy the FTA and pencil out in practice.
Port CEO Larry Crockett kindly answered a couple of my questions about the service. First, regarding bikes on board: any boat would include room for bikes, although as no boat has yet been leased or purchased, the precise capacity is unknown. As a bike-friendly town, and the gateway to the growing Olympic Discovery Trail, Port Townsend is a great place to take a bike, so this is a smart decision. Once the ODT is complete enough to ride between Port Townsend and Port Angeles without riding on the 101, this could be a component of some amazing bike plus ferry (plus train) loops.
Second, regarding the choice of Bell Harbor over Colman Dock: as we reported some months ago, WSDOT’s plans for the rebuilt Colman Dock did not, and still do not, include any provision for passenger ferries, beyond making space available in the design for foot ferry agencies to add their own dock. This regrettable omission jeopardizes any passenger-only service at Colman, as no passenger ferry agency has the funds to replace the existing passenger dock. Faced with that uncertainty at Colman, Bell Harbor was the obvious choice.
For most of my posts for STB, the topic is axing or restructuring unproductive or nonsensically-designed bus routes to improve service on high-performing routes; but the overarching subject is really making it not just possible, but easy to live in the city as an independent adult with a full life, without owning a car. Every rider-oriented Metro restructure, every new Zipcar location, every new (or improved) Cascades trip, every new bike trail, bridge and greenway, gets us a little bit closer to that goal, as does this new passenger ferry service, which is why I’m thrilled to see it advance closer to reality.
If you have questions or comments on the proposal, email firstname.lastname@example.org and it’ll be considered along with other public feedback. Even if all you have to say is that this is a service you would use, consider submitting that as a comment. There’s still a lot of hurdles to be cleared before the first sailing, and supportive comments from likely riders certainly won’t hurt.