The West Seattle Water Taxi is coming back April 5, rebranded as the King County Water Taxi.  There are festivities and free rides that day.

I’m not wild about passenger ferries vs. buses in general, but the transportation situation in West Seattle is pretty grim and I’m not sure I begrudge them this amenity.

H/T: Oran.

29 Replies to “Water Taxi Coming Back”

  1. What do you have against passenger ferries? I believe the KC water taxi is quicker than any competing bus, with a 12-minute trip from West Seattle to Downtown, and I think i read that farebox recovery is around 40% vs 20% for buses.

    1. It is quicker but it runs from a comparatively deserted part of West Seattle. If you include a shuttle ride from the Junction and a wait at the ferry dock, it doesn’t generally compare favorably with a bus trip except during high-traffic times on the bridge/viaduct. Of course, after the viaduct comes down, that calculation will change in favor of the water taxi.

    2. According to the ferry Districts 2009 budget they have a capital cost of $2.3M for the Seacrest Terminal. It doesn’t sound like they plan on moving operations in the near future.

      They have another $2M in the capital budget for vessel leases. It doesn’t say what the term of the lease is or for what boats. It would seem to make more sense to put the annual cost of the lease under operating expenses for each vessel but I’m not an accountant or tax lawyer. To make it even more confusing they put terminal and vessel leases plus capital under the operating budget for demonstration route 1.

      Free transit and shuttle service is listed as a single line item at $861,000. I think that should be itemized by route. It’s really impossible to tell what the cost of the West Seattle Water Taxi Service really is.

      I sure would like to see a ST style subarea equity program in place. Maybe I should be careful what I wish for. According to the PSRC study alexjonlin links to below the Kirkland to UW Ferry would have annual operating costs of $2.4M ($22.50 each way for that portion of a persons commute). Without a better budget picture for the water taxi it’s hard to say but if the West Seattle Blog numbers are correct (192k riders last year) at $3 per head it should be or almost be turning a profit.

      1. I believe the water taxi does indeed recover a majority of its operating costs.

        I love it for heading out to Alki on a nice day.

  2. I agree. The Water Taxi does an amazing job and is much faster than any of the current buses that are running along the route for sure. I always take the Water Taxi over the buses just because I know I won’t be stuck in the Alki traffic.

    1. It sort of seems like the West Seattle landing doesn’t have much around it :/

      1. True. KC ferry district operates a free shuttle to the water taxi but it doesn’t serve all of West Seattle. From what I could gather on the website it’s possible that they could choose another location for the terminal in the future, so maybe they’ll move it to Alki. Either way, I’m looking forward to taking it over to Alki during the summer for a beach day!

  3. I know it’s a pipe dream but for a ferry that spends that much time docked it could EASILY be made all electric.

      1. I took a little electric ferry through the Plitvice National Park in Croatia (a must see if you’re ever in/near Eastern Europe). It only took around 40 passengers and wasn’t exactly speedy, but it ran all day. But then this was a tiny boat – if we extended the length we could dramatically increase the speed.

        Hey, here‘s a relevant article. A few good quotes:

        “In Austria, electric ferries carry up to 200 passengers on trips across lakes where petrol or diesel engines are banned.”

        “At the turn of the 20th century, The 65-foot, 80 passenger Viscountess Bury plied the Thames between 1888 and 1910… In 1904, the world’s biggest electric passenger ship, the 93-foot Victory, carried 350 passengers upriver above Westminster Bridge.”

        “Today’s cheap, lead acid batteries store three-times the watt hours of their 1896 counterparts… Nickel Metal Hydride batteries are half the weight, twice the cost and can be completely discharged in use.”

  4. I’m sure that is possible but we lack the consistent sunshine needed to have an electric/solar powered boat capable of 250+ passengers and 15-20 knots.

  5. Strange to say, the electric idea might actually pencil out. The boat would have to be slow, but it would be silent, so it wouldn’t frazzle your nerves to be on it.

    A 100-foot boat will be economical at a little under 10 knots, and any engineer types who want to fiddle with this can just use the tonnage from some known 100-footer to roughly calculate for the weight of the batteries, engines, etc. I’m guessing 90 passengers seated.

  6. I love the idea of bringing back the POFs. Some of the routes (Shilshole-Downtown?) don’t seem that great, but the Kirkland and Kenmore to the U District ones sound great. I found a study of various possible routes around the area, including ridership and cost projections and all sorts of other information, here: Click on the Chapter 3 pages under July 31, 2008.

    1. Shilshole-downtown…Larry Phillips? Just guessing; sounds more like a political conversation than a viable transportation connection.

  7. If the all electric Mary Gordon could haul 75 people at 8mph in 1898 then I am sure with modern technology we could do much better.

    For the insane amount of money our ferries seem to cost it couldn’t be that much more to go all electrict..

  8. My most pleasant bus ride was inferior to my least pleasant West Seattle Water Taxi ride. The view, the lack of chattering and lurching, and the complete absence of human urine stench elevate this trip above merely the length of time it takes.

    I’m pretty sure they won’t make the third bicyclist wait for the next trip, either.

  9. What about Magnolia? Why wouldn’t they study a ferry service from Magnolia? It just mirrors the existing West Seattle Water Taxi distance. I’m not saying that there isn’t some hurdles(that huge hill to get to the water) but a 15 min ferry ride from Magnolia compared to a hour ride from Shilshole.

    1. Unfortunately, any suitably sized ferry from either Shilshole or Mongolia would be shut down a significant number of days in the winter. Way too much wind and wave from the south. And the speed would not be significantly faster. Better to get Sound Transit to build the long planned station in the Shilshole area. This would also make a convenient stop for a connecting express bus to the University district.

      1. The need to shut down the route would depend a lot on the vessel used. As long as the right vessel is used a run to either Magnolia or Shilshole wouldn’t have to shut down any more often than the West Seattle water taxi or Vashon POF service will.

      2. I have read that the Granville Island Ferries is a successful privately owned water taxi system in Vancouver. I wonder if the city or king county ferry… ever thought to talk to the owns to find out what is the reason for their success? Finding the right coast guard approved vessel is the key to year round operation. Size has nothing to do with it.

    2. Smith Cove maybe? Though that is a bit far from anything in Magnolia proper. Perhaps a connector shuttle like West Seattle has would make it slightly more practical.

  10. But even then, you would only have trains only 8 trains total (4 each direction) so what would be the point to put down a couple million dollars for a platform for something that may only serve a handful of people?

    The water taxi I’d be on the fence about. If it ran from Shilshole Marina to Downtown (Water Taxi landing) I’d probably support it because it’s a fairly close walk to Golden Gardens. If your trying to get to the Ballard locks, you’d have a decent walk there.

    1. I seriously doubt the economics would support more boat runs than the Sounder/Amtrak trains that run now. And it will take more traffic than a few people who want to go to Golden Gardens to justify the run. I believe we’re talking about commuter service, not trolley runs to the parks like in the 1920’s.

      As far as boat size, it will be dictated largely by the customer market. Shilshole is out in the middle of nowhere, water on one side and bluffs on the other. The only significant population is the Sunset West Condos. These people have already proved that they can yell a lot from their wheel chairs, as evidenced by their success in getting more runs of the Metro 46 bus. Now if they will only use it. I doubt Metro will keep the run as it is basically empty. They certainly aren’t going to financially support a downtown ferry.

      The only real justification for a rail stop would be a rapid bus connection to the University for people coming from Everett/Mukilteo/Edmonds and the two ferry connections. There aren’t enough people withing walking distance of any station near Shilshole to justify it otherwise.

  11. How about a mixed use freight and passenger ferry from Fishermans Terminal to Harbor Island with a stop downtown to unload passengers and restaurant/market supplies? One of the reasons I’ve heard for the current viaduct configuration is a connection between the shops and marine services south of downtown to the commercial fleet and general marine industry in the area of the Locks. One ship each direction morning and evening should be able to handle a lot of that.

  12. ROFLMAO. Why sure, I’ll just walk down from Magnolia to Shilshole and take a boat into Seattle. Gotta be quicker than starting from Fisherman’s Terminal and going through the locks.

    Actually, one reason I’m laughing is I used to do stuff like that. When I was 15 and didn’t have a drivers license or a girlfriend. Yup, time to kill.

    Smith Cove really should have a transit stop, especially considering that it is now filled with dirt and trains run over it, but the transit should be the Waterfront Trolley extended north to serve the cruise ships.

  13. I loved to ride my bike to the dock and take the ferry as a shortcut to my office downtown. It’s a beautiful ride.

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