Enjoying a summer trip on the Tacoma
Enjoying a summer trip on the Tacoma by the Author

Update by Brian Bundridge: M/V Wenatchee is now back in service as of the Friday afternoon commute. Thanks for Todd Shipyard for the quick turnaround!

We here at Seattle Transit Blog haven’t really covered a lot in terms of ferry news. The accident involving the M/V Wenatchee on Sunday has caught my attention with the heavy activity in the news regarding the ferry service. Like my Amtrak Cascades posts, I will post monthly or bi-monthly updates, along with news regarding ferries.

  • The accident involving the M/V Wenatchee is still yet to be determined. The heavy fog this time of year is quite uncommon. (At least according to the Farmers Almanac) WSF is hopeful that the Wenatchee will be back in service before Labor Day Weekend.
  • Victoria Express is providing two 149-passenger foot ferries which will shuttle passengers between Seattle and Bremerton. For schedule information, please check out WSF’s page regarding the shuttle service
  • The ferry shuffle once again dinged the Bremerton route. The 124-car Kitsap will provide the sole service on this route until further notice. The normal ferry, the Hyak, will serve the Edmonds/Kingston route until further notice. The 202-car Puyallup will serve the Seattle/Bainbridge route which will restore its service back to normal capacity.
  • WSF has moved forward with procuring two additional 64-car ferries and the bid going out this fall. Depending on the money saved, WSF may seek to procure a 144-car ferry instead of a 64-car ferry.
  • The first 64-car ferry is well under construction at Todd Shipyards! Its sea trials are expected Summer 2010 and service on the Port Townsend/Keystone route.
  • WSF is also pursuing one or two 144-car ferries which will be based on the Issaquah Class vessel. The 144-car vessels will be used on various routes throughout the ferry system.
  • Currently in drydock, the 87-car M/V Klahowya and 188-car M/V Walla Walla for scheduled maintenance (16kb PDF). There are no backup vessels available to fill in gaps in service.

In other news, Washington State Ferries released their long-range plan (2mb PDF) in June 2009. This plan goes over the future of the ferry system, capital funding issues, terminal upgrades and when vessels will be “up-sized” to support heavier traffic, etc. The worst part about the plan is the deferred new terminals at Edmonds (year 2029) and Mukilteo (year 2017). Both of these terminals were critical components to North Sounder and increasing ridership on the train. The City of Edmonds may proceed and build the new station with WSF’s assistance.

WSF is also looking at ways to add a reservation system to certain ferry routes. Currently, the Port Townsend/Keystone route is on a trial reservation system. Because of the small size of the ferry, this boat is very hard to get on if you want to take a casual drive via Deception Pass, etc. Between now and 2030, WSF will be adding 10 boats and retiring 7 boats (The Evergreen State, Rhododendron Class boats, along with the Kaleetan and Yakima Super Ferry Class boats)

That is all the goodies I have for now! I will be sure to update as soon as I hear that the Wenatchee is back and also, feel free to chime in about ferry news! It is something I hope to cover along with the heavy rail end of things more frequently.

45 Replies to “Washington State Ferry News”

  1. Tim Eyeman almost single handedly killed WSF. Well, him and the voting majority who were too short sighted to know what it is they were actually voting for. We had a world class, internationally recognised fleet that was operated with utmost efficiency and now we’re slipping further behind… Sad…

      1. People tried when I-695 was on the ballot. There were plenty of warnings that everything from transit service, to the ferry system, to streetlights, to sidewalks, to the budgets of rural cites and counties was going to be affected if I-695 passed. The proponents claimed that greater “efficiency” and cutting “waste, fraud, and abuse” would fill the budget hole. Well 10 years on and most of the predictions of why getting rid of the MVET was a bad idea have come true.

        Actually I-695 never made it into law, but after the WA Supreme Court tossed I-695 for violating the single-subject rule the Legislature cravenly got rid of the MVET without replacing the funding. They’ve done similar actions with other Eyeman initiatives that have been tossed out by the courts such as the one limiting the amount counties and cities can increase the property tax without a vote. This is one of the sources of King County’s budget woes.

        Ol’ Tim is at it again with his “TABOR”-like I-1033 which would lock-in the current recession-era budgets during the next boom. The only hope if I-1033 passes is that it will finally force the political & business leadership in this state to confront fixing the broken tax system in Washington.

        The other option would be to put Eyeman in a box and ship him to Antarctica.

      2. The big issue is that they tried “when there was something on the ballot”, not every day.

      3. “The other option would be to put Eyeman in a box and ship him to Antarctica.”

        Could we vote on that instead of one of his silly initiatives?

      4. Actually someone did try and get him declared an horse’s arse but it was ruled out of bounds for an initiative!

        Antarctica sounds fine to me – basically, anywhere but Washington State.

      5. Actually someone did try and get him declared an horse’s arse but it was ruled out of bounds for an initiative!

        I believe that was one David Goldstein AKA “Goldie”, proprietor of horsesass.org or HA Seattle as he seems to be trying to rebrand it lately.

    1. Not so sad. The ferry system had become an institutional dinosaur, extravagantly planning billions worth of environmental degradation for the west side of Puget Sound. to serve monster ferries carrying suburban traffic. Too busy, we now know, with this extravagant planning to actually run the system properly. A discrete veil has been drawn over the screw-ups of the recent past, but suffice it to say there was more than one reason for Anderson’s sudden retirement, and the sudden and unexpected retirement of the Steel-Electrics is the perfect snapshot of system in disarray.

      If Eyeman were really responsible for pulling the stop-cord on this, I would be forced to perform that most repugnant of acts, admitting he might have actually done some good. Fortunately, it is entirely possible to regard this as the hard landing of a bloated and nepotistical system on the runway of budget realities.

      1. I-695 gutted the capital budget of the ferry system and reduced the funds available for maintenance. The boats either need to be replaced periodically, or need increasingly expensive maintenance in order to stay seaworthy. If you don’t do either one you end up with the Coast Guard pulling the vessel’s operating certificates like what happened to the Steel Electrics.

        Remember Bremerton/Silverdale is the 5th largest metro in the state and Kitsap is the 6th largest county. Without the Ferry System a majority of the 230,000 people there would all be trying to find places to live in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.

        Remember one of the casualties of I-695 was the passenger-only ferry program which would have cut down on the need for so many “monster ferries carrying suburban traffic” and made the commuter traffic much more like the PO ferries in the Bay Area.

      2. It’s quite obvious from the ridership on the boats that, without the ferry system, the majority of people in Kitsap would not be moving to Seattle. But if they were, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

        Naturally, they would like you to blame I-695 for the poor management that resulted in the sudden withdrawal from service of four ferries. As I recall, these boats were something like 80 years old. A prudent replacement program, instead of an aggressive expansion program, would have seen all of these boats replaced before they were actually retired.

        As for the idea that “one of the casualties of I-695 was the passenger-only ferry program which would have cut down on the need for so many ‘monster ferries carrying suburban traffic'”, they ran just as many car ferries while the PO ferries were running, and the car ferries have easily carried all the passengers who rode on the PO ferries.

        The simple fact is, the PO ferries were not much faster, were significantly less reliable in keeping schedule, and were a lot less comfortable than the car ferries. Only a handful of people who bought in to the myth found it worthwhile to pay the fare for the PO ferry.

  2. Thank you for doing a ferry update. I am a life-long ferry geek. The funny thing was, I had a thought the other day that this blog seemed to ignore the ferry system which carries thousands every day in and out of Seattle. Washington State Ferries is a huge part of the Seattle transportation industry.

    1. The shipbuilding industry is supposed to serve the transportation needs of the region, not the other way around.

  3. I have recently begun commuting again (I used to commute from Kitsap to Seattle) from South Seattle to Bremerton. I have been most disappointed in Link’s lack of coordination with the ferries. The last train leaves the transit tunnel a few minutes before the last Bremerton-Seattle ferry docks in Seattle, making it impossible to use the two in tandem, despite their proximity. Instead, I run to catch the 42, which will be discontinued, at least at night, in a couple of weeks.

    It’s sad this simple coordination of two major modes of transportation was not considered.

    1. I wouldn’t say it wasn’t considered – I’d say WSF probably didn’t want to move their trip up ten minutes for the *maybe* two or three people who would transfer to Link. Bainbridge has another sailing even after that.

      This is something that’s always an issue with a new service. It’s not taken seriously until there are a lot of people riding. We’ll have shadow service at night in the future, but we need to apply pressure to make that happen.

      Honestly, though, that’s a two and a half hour headway. If WSF wants to make that connection, they’re going to need to start speaking out about their funding needs and saying “we need money if you want a second ferry”.

      1. An excellent example of what shouldn’t happen. The next boat the ferry system will build will be a 144-car ferry, but the car deck on the Bremerton run is half empty almost all of the time. Letting the ferry system use this kind of example to blackmail us into buying big car ferries neatly plays on our ignorance and their institutional inertia.

        Consulting a pre-crash schedule I had in my wallet, it’s plain that one boat could be dropped after 7 PM and the remaining boat rescheduled, with one less run, to cover the last run of LINK. I repeat, the car decks on these ferries are never full- dropping an evening run will not result in cars being left on the dock.

        If a more frequent service were desired, the schedule should be re-jiggered to provide passenger-only ferries, which could be run by the same crews that run the big boats- that is to say, tighten up the schedule and have half of the crew of the car ferry go down, take the PO boat into Seattle and back, and then return to the car ferry for the next trip.

        Indeed, if the Bremerton run were reduced to one car ferry at all times, and the service run on alternating car and passenger-only boats as described, it would probably be cheaper and possibly even faster than the existing situation in which they tell us they can’t afford to run the PO boats.

  4. Since moving to the west side of Puget Sound, I have become one with the people of Eastern Washington who wish to see no further expansion of the ferry system. Enough already!

    The ferries are a subsidy for cars- the last thing I want to see more of out here. The terminals consistently become larger, requiring “improvements” to the supporting roads. All of this is done for the benefit of people who can afford to drive 100 miles to see a dentist or take in a show, and this essentially frivolous travel not only is something that shouldn’t be subsidized, but also makes it harder for local services and arts to grow out here.

    The ferries also serve as subsidy for the tourist industry, an industry which increasingly sees the main cash cow as being the sale of gasoline and beer to people running unlicensed (and unmuffled) quadricycles in the forest. The only skilled employment created by all of this is the paramedics, firefighters, and police officers who clean up wrecks and fight forest fires caused by tourists- all at local expense, of course.

    Especially egregious is the wailing and rending of garments by the ferry system about the budget constraints forcing them to cut back- from the plans they had in 2002 to rule the world! Yes, they thought an essential first step in keeping the ferries going was 300-car superferries landing at megaterminals that emptied in to new freeways, creating ever-widening vistas of suburban tract housing on the west side of Puget Sound.

    You wouldn’t like it a bit if this kind of boondoggle were proposed for East King County, but paint a smiley ferry face on it and everyone is ready to take a cruise.

    Which is only slightly weirder because most people don’t know a thing about it. For example, why should fog make any difference in whether you hit the dock, now that we have radar?

    It is long past time to put the kibosh on the whole thing, but sadly, this must wait for the entire collapse of our suburban lifestyle. Which will have the knock-on effect of the state having just finished construction of 300-car ferries and 600-car terminals which, in the event, will be found to be grotesquely outsized and uneconomical to run.

    Incidentally, I’ve been riding the state ferries, man and boy, for over 50 years now. Believe it, the magic is gone. The upper decks of the car ferries make wonderful commuter transport, and I would encourage everyone to take a few summer trips as walk-ons (Bremerton and Winslow are best if you want to lay over a trip and explore on foot) and lean on the rail enjoying the view of the sound. Better than a joy ride on a train, perhaps, but increasingly suburban on the other side.

  5. I think the Farmer’s Almanac is probably wrong about the frequency of fog this time of year, at least in reference to fog over Puget Sound.

    My experience as a sailor (and something I vaguely remember reading in a NW marine weather book) is that fog over the water is very common in August and September; it usually doesn’t extend inland at all, but visibility at the water level can be very poor. Some local sailors call the month that just ended “Foggust”.

    Probably nothing to do with the ferry crunch, though.

  6. Blaming Fog for this accident is ridiculous. It’s not just radar, it’s GPS, that enables the coast guard to shut down the lighthouses. That dock hasn’t moved in 50 years hitting it hard enough to dent the front of the boat means someone was definitely asleep (or not there at all) at the wheel.

    Ferries as subsidy for tourists, yep. And I still love them. The super car ferries are really only “necessary” on holiday weekends. Nothing like a 4hr wait to cross home. But it has been a few years since I’ve driven on for a West Puget Sound excursion and with the recession it may not be as bad as it has been in the past.

    BTW the tourist effect is not just for the West side’ers Us Eastsiders get a bonus when folks use our hotels and restaurants. (the added tax revenues fund those sports palaces just South of the city.)

    1. Actually Bainbridge and Edmonds/Kingston regularly have 1 boat waits during commute hours and can go to 2 or more boat waits if there is a traffic spike of some sort.

      One issue I have is if the WSF would play nice with the transit agencies on both sides of the Sound the number of cars wanting to cross could be greatly reduced. This applies not just to the commuter heavy runs in central Puget Sound but the more tourist oriented crossings at Port Townsend and the San Juans runs. What would it cost to run shuttles around the 4 San Juan Islands with ferry service? How many people would leave the car at home or at least in Anacortes if they could get to where they wanted to go on Orcas or Lopez without taking a motor vehicle with them?

      At some point subsidizing transit service is cheaper than building and operating large car ferries.

      1. When the Bremerton and Bainbridge boats pull in on the Kitsap side, there are six buses waiting in each terminal that fill with passengers and head out to take them home.

        On the Seattle side, not so much. A couple of buses labeled for Kenmore or some equally improbable destination for someone debarking in Seattle, a twenty-minute wait for the bus-that-looks-like-a-streetcar, or a stiff little hike up to Third for some real bus service.

      2. “On the Seattle side, not so much. A couple of buses labeled for Kenmore or some equally improbable destination for someone debarking in Seattle”

        Hyperbolic, much? Neither of the two bus routes that serve the terminal directly go any further north than Northgate and both go up to 3rd Avenue negating the “stiff…hike” up the hill to the main bus avenue.

      3. Well, that would be great- if I had ever seen them move. I have frequently waited 20 minutes for a buddy to pick me up at the ferry and the buses are immobile.

        I’m sure you’re right about them being Northgate. Just someplace that 99% of the foot passengers aren’t going, not that it would matter, considering the buses don’t actually depart.

  7. This plan goes over the future of the ferry system, capital funding issues, terminal upgrades and when vessels will be “up-sized” to support heavier traffic, etc. The worst part about the plan is the deferred new terminals at Edmonds (year 2029) and Mukilteo (year 2017). Both of these terminals were critical components to North Sounder and increasing ridership on the train.

    If this isn’t the poster child for government waste to promote sprawl I don’t know what is. Mega size the ferry system to prop up numbers on commuter rail that’s not viable. The ferry system had funding for two new boats from the nickel tax and squandered it. There should be no money spent on new boats until the law is changed to allow out of State bidding on the contracts. Or at least prove that the millions extra it costs to have these built in Washington is worth the extra cost.

    1. I totally disagree with repealing the local first ferry purchase. There is no reason to send hundreds of millions of dollars to another state to save a few million by buying a cheaper ferry. When we spend the local tax money on local businesses, that money is recirculated within the Puget Sound Economy. Economists use a 12x factor for this sort of purchase, where each paid worker buys groceries, etc, and those businesses pay their workers who also spend their money locally.

      Most of those transactions are subject taxes (sales, excise, property) so the state retrieves much of the money spent on the ferry back through the transaction taxes.

      On the side of the coin that says spend the money in another state, all of it leaves the state and only those suppliers who also sell out of state retrieve the funds.

      The state wins majorly when it buys stuff locally.

      1. I’m not saying it can’t be built in State but by opening the bidding you’ll get a much better price. What do you think the price would be like if we passed a law that said all new Metro buses must be built by Kenworth? Todd knows that they are really the only viable in State option and with no competition can charge what ever they want. In general I’m against mandatory use of the lowest bidder. But they should take in bids and then decide if it’s warranted to keep all or some of the work in State. The contracts for new boats are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fraud, waste and inefficiency in the WSF system.

      2. Um… if you open the bidding, the only way you’re going to get a better price is if you go out of state. The bids are sealed, and if your in-state offer loses, it loses. The bids don’t change based on who is allowed to bid.

      3. Sure Ben, a company that knows it’s the only bidder is going to give the same low price on a government contract that it would on competitive private sector work. And no, it’s not mandatory that the low bid automatically has to get the job. The State, just like a private home owner could solicit bids and then decide which one is the best value based on price, quality and service. Just because highway projects currently automatically go to the low bidder doesn’t mean ferry contracts would have to be awarded that way.

      4. There is a big empty factory building down in Renton that used to build trucks for Kenworth. I’d rather we built buses there and pay a bit more than buy ones from Italy.

      5. Kenworth got out of the school bus business because they weren’t selling enough replacement parts- the buses they made just didn’t wear out fast enough.

        So, yes, if we had the Pacific Car management team from 1952, we could get a heckuva deal on buses from Kenworth.

    2. Shouldn’t it be obvious that nobody is taking their car across on the ferry to park it in a lot and get on the train? Completing a terminal that connects directly with a train should decrease the need for space on the car deck, thus decreasing the need for ever-larger ferries and the ever-larger terminals to support them.

  8. Kitsap Transit continues planning for its high-speed, low-wake passenger ferry prototype, which should be ready for sea trials in Spring, 2010.

    There’s no word yet on how the proposed fleet will be funded, nor how Kitsap Transit, which is preparing to make draconian cuts to its bus service, intends to pay for the fleet’s operation. However, Kitsap Transit is sensibly exploring a partnership with the King County Ferry District, which could serve both counties well. This is subject to the constantly changing political and financial landscapes, of course, but the agencies are exploring preparing a joint EIS for all regional passenger ferry service planned in the near-term, replacing the temporary dock at Pier 50 with a permanent dock, or at least upgrading the temporary dock, working together with the Port of Kingston on possible future passenger service between Kingston and Seattle, and so forth. Also, Kitsap Transit management has indicated it wants to use non-union personnel on the boats, in an apparent bid to keep operating costs down, but I don’t believe the board has publicly signed off on that approach.

    The B.U.T.T. is working extremely well for vehicles deboarding the Bremerton ferry, although I’ve heard numerous complaints from unhappy drivers briefly stuck behind the red light at the side of the tunnel’s, um, exit onto the western leg of SR 304 (a.k.a. Burwell Street), who must wait until the tunnel is clear.

    1. So at double the fuel efficiency of a standard monohull it’s still burning 75 gallons per hour! Sailing time will still be about one hour. An articulated bus carries roughly as many people. MapQuest puts drive time from Seattle to Bremerton at an hour and twenty minutes. Sixty six miles at 3 miles per gallon would be 22 gallons. The bus operates with a crew of one and has the ability to pick-up and drop off in multiple locations. How does a ferry make sense?

      1. It is an hour and 20 minute drive when there isn’t congestion on I-15, SR 16, and SR 3. But it can be a 3 or more hour trip when the traffic is bad.

        For trips further North on the Kitsap peninsula a bus taking the long way around isn’t at all practical.

        One of the routes that will likely be served by PO ferry service is Kingston/Seattle. Other than the auto ferry to Edmonds or swimming there is no real alternative on this route.

  9. I was going to joke that you don’t cover them because they don’t run on rails… ;-p

    But, in all honesty, they’re not really transit are they? (Although I’m still interested in reading your coverage of them.)

    Unless we’re talking passenger-only ferries, we’re talking about supporting drivers moving cars around. In fact, they are considered an extension of the state’s highway system! And, because of that, they qualify for gas tax revenue support!

    1. Ride the 4 PM Bremerton or Bainbridge boats- they are absolutely packed with commuters. When this foot passenger traffic becomes too much to bear, they should convert the upper car decks of the big ferries to foot passenger space.

      1. The Edmonds/Kingston and Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth boats are packed with walk-on passengers during commute hours as well.

        If I recall correctly the only two ferry runs that take in more in fares than they cost to operate are Seattle/Bainbridge and Edmonds/Kingston. In terms of walk-on passengers, Seattle/Bainbridge is #1, Edmonds/Kingston is #2, Seattle/Bremerton is #3, and Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth is #4. In terms of relative volumes I believe Edmonds/Kingston sees roughly 3/4 the passengers of Seattle/Bainbridge and both Seattle/Bremerton and Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth see about 1/2 the passengers of Edmonds/Kingston.

    2. Maybe the answer for Sounder North is to follow the ferry system lead add car transporters to the consist. It would actually make more sense for the State to subsidize rail freight of passenger cars between Everett and Tacoma than it does to barge them across the Sound.

    3. When a ferry can carry 200 cars and 2500 passengers, we are talking transit, no matter how much we may loathe the cars on the auto decks. Thousands of folks use transit on one or both sides of the water in addition to the ferries for their commutes.
      When a passenger only vessel is developed that can run with only 2 or 3 crew, can run in all but the very very worst weather our area can throw at us, and run at high speed with minimal wake in the narrow passages some routes traverse, then perhaps the legislature (which sets the direction and budget for the ferry system) will have a change of heart. But in the end, we are indeed back to the gas tax issue – until that is resolved, the ferry system will never change much.

    4. Seems odd that nobody remembers the Staten Island ferries, which look very much like our car ferries. I don’t know if they carry cars, I never saw a car, but I never really looked. It would certainly simplify building the terminal if you didn’t carry cars.

      I only rode them in off-peak hours but (as a rube from Seattle) found the loading and debarking of hundreds of passengers fascinating.

      The hulls of our car ferries are the ideal shape and size for fuel efficiency and maintaining schedules in adverse weather. The size of the boats allows for food service. Terminals and loading ramps for cars are already in place. The simple- and right- answer is to keep the existing service, not make the boats or terminals any larger, and expand passenger accommodation at the expense of cars as warranted.

      1. The newest Staten Island ferries can carry cars, but cars haven’t been allowed since the 9/11 attacks and it is not known when they’ll be allowed to carry cars again (if ever).

  10. This week’s Bremerton Patriot has an article about last Tuesday’s contentious Transportation Commission meeting in Silverdale: ‘Crowd cries foul on ferry fare proposal’

    Click on the link for a short, but interesting, read.

    If you, too, would like to yell (politely, of course) at Governor Gregoire’s cronies, the Patriot thoughtfully provided the following information in a sidebar (apparently not published online):

    Missed the meeting?

    Public comments on the fare proposal can be submitted through Sept. 8. E-mail transc@wsdot.wa.gov, call (360) 705-7070 or send mail to Tariff Proposal, Washington State Transportation Commission, PO Box 47308, Olympia WA 98504-7308.

    A final public hearing is slated for 1-5 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Puget Sound Regional Council building, 1011 Western Ave., Suite 500, Seattle. Testimony will also be taken via a conference line, (712) 432-1620, pin number 404317#.

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