Water Taxis in West Seattle, photo by Zack Heistand

King County is considering adding more water taxi routes. Last week, the County Council’s TrEE Committee (Transportation, Economy and Environment) reviewed an interim report looking into expansion of the service.

The interim report screened 36 potential routes serving 17 terminal locations on Lake Washington and the King County shore of Puget Sound. Just three of these met criteria for travel time and operational cost recovery. The routes were:

* Kenmore (Log Boom Park) to University of Washington (Waterfront Activity Center)
* Kirkland (Marina Park) to University of Washington (Waterfront Activity Center)
* Ballard (Shilshole Marina) to Downtown Seattle (Pier 50).

The screening criteria are forgiving. Water taxis were considered time-competitive where the round trip differential compared to available transit was less than forty minutes. Seven routes meeting that threshold were evaluated for ridership and operating costs. Those projected to achieve less than 10% farebox recovery at startup, or 25% recovery at maturity (ten years after startup) were then eliminated, leaving three routes for further consideration.

Potential routes identified for further study.

Will riders favor water taxis over other transit modes with better travel times? The round-trip time penalties for water taxi are 21 minutes for Kirkland-UW, 26 minutes for Kenmore-UW, and 29 minutes for Ballard-Downtown Seattle. The report argues that riders might prefer “the enhanced experience of riding a water taxi, a guaranteed seat, on-board restrooms, and great scenic views”.  A water taxi might also have less variable travel times. In contrast, the current West Seattle-Downtown service has travel times similar to surface transit. Vashon is only accessible by ferry, and the water taxi (22 minutes) is nearly three times faster than Metro Route 118 via the Washington State Ferries (63 minutes).

In 2014, the West Seattle-Downtown route carried 283 thousand riders, and 184 thousand used the Vashon to Downtown service. Ambitions for the new routes are lower. Each has projected ridership of 57-59 thousand in the first year of operation, growing to 107-120 thousand on each route at maturity (after ten years).

Access is a challenge at all of the sites. At Kenmore, the nearest parking would be accessible only via a 4-minute shuttle ride from the already well-used Kenmore Park-and-Ride. At Kirkland, the dock is close to the downtown transit center. But the Council directed staff to look at a circulator bus to attract more riders. Despite obvious challenges with out-of-direction travel, this bus might serve Google and other ridership centers south of downtown. Kirkland has long been concerned with the potential for ferry traffic to tie up parking in downtown. At Ballard, no transit serves the Shilshole Marina. The report assumes parking would be available at the Marina, though it is uncertain whether the Port would make this available. It may violate a City of Seattle prohibition on new park-and-rides. Without parking, that route would probably not be feasible.

Dock facilities that would be required for water taxi service.
Dock facilities that would be required for water taxi service.

Apart from the vessels (assumed for planning purposes to be 150 seats ferries rated for 35-knot cruising speed), the largest capital costs are at docks. Some would be minor, but UW requires more work. The dock would be at the south end of campus near Husky stadium, and about a six-minute walk from the UW light rail station. But UW is concerned about impacts to recreational water users and the UW rowing program. The docks would need to be rebuilt to accommodate existing small boat users in addition to water taxis. UW also asked that pedestrian access to the Link station and UW Medical Center be developed as part of the ferry service so that riders could walk safely through the area.

The intention is to provide commuter-oriented service initially, with three round trips in the AM peak and another three in the PM peak. This is the same service level as the Vashon Water Taxi. On the other hand, the West Seattle Water Taxi provides all day, evening, and weekend service between April and October, and commute service only during the winter months. The more recreationally-oriented operating hours in the summer drive higher ridership, and the County Marine Division reported that a majority of trips are non-commute. UW expressed interest in weekend and event ferry access.

The idea of a ferry on Lake Washington is not new, of course. Ferries from Madison Park served several Eastside communities before the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge (later I-90) opened in 1940. The Kirkland ferry continued service as late as 1950 when bridge tolls were removed. In 2009, King County planned a demonstration project with service to begin on three to four routes later that year, but work was suspended due to the Great Recession.

A final report is due November 25.

94 Replies to “King County Explores New Water Taxi Routes”

  1. I rode the water taxi to West Seattle and back for the first time this summer. It was a beautiful day, fun little trip and I wasn’t going anywhere, but I just wanted to check out the water taxi. But I wondered how reliable is it for commuting. How windy does it have to get before the ride gets cancelled? How many days is the service cancelled in a typical winter?

    As an aside, the day I same day I rode the water taxi, the Mariners were playing in the afternoon instead of in the evening. There I was, downtown, about two hours before game time, but I decided not to wait around and see the game. Argh!!! That was the day Iwakuma threw his no-hitter.

    1. I rode it full time for a couple of years when I worked in the pioneer square area and it was almost entirely reliable. I only occasionally ride it now that I work in belltown since compared to the 56 its not time competitive to belltown. There is an occasional missed service due to mechanical failures but virtually never for weather on the west seattle run. I can’t actually think of a case. And when its not cancelled its extremely rare for it to be more than a minute behind schedule. Now that they have 3 boats mechanical cancellations TEND to be only for a run or two rather than prolonged, but since I don’t ride it as often now I can say that from personal experience. The vashon run is more exposed and occassionally does have weather cancellations i believe.

  2. Thanks for the story. Interesting stuff.

    Sometimes you need a report to show that an idea just doesn’t make much sense. These ferries might get a handful of people, but as the report said, the big cost is on the docks. This means that even if you ran smaller (presumably cheaper) ferries, it wouldn’t be that great of a deal.

    I can’t but think that the best thing to do is just increase the number of ferries to West Seattle. Half hour service at rush is hardly great. Frequency matters. Double the number of runs during rush hour and you are competitive — end to end — with buses, if not driving. I’m also guessing this is one of the few parts of our transit system that would benefit substantially from more publicity. I’m sure there are a lot of people who visit friends in West Seattle who have no idea about the ferry. Increasing frequency not only makes it practical for them to ride the bus and the ferry, but it gets noticed as well.

    1. Agree. Ferries are really expensive, and only work well when alternative options are too slow, even more expensive (i.e. bridges) or simply impossible.

      The West Seattle-Downtown route has 2 advantages that make it somewhat more viable:

      1) Avoids a severe rush hour traffic chokepoint (West Seattle Bridge – Viaduct/99)
      2) Has a shorter straight-line travel distance than the roads (helping to offset lower boat speeds)

      Ballard-Downtown is really bad. Not only more water miles than road miles, but also a backtracking connection to Shilshole with very poor transit service.

      Kirkland-UW could be interesting, but as stated above, the UW dock would be a lengthy hike for anyone in north campus.

      1. Yeah, I agree. I initially thought the UW-Kirkland route had promise, but when you look at the details (as explained really well in this report) it just doesn’t pencil out. It doesn’t connect well with the campus. Even the distance to the Husky Stadium station is longer than I expected (a six minute walk). Then there is the lack of enthusiasm if not downright hostility towards the dock improvements (on both sides), Nice idea, but I just don’t think it works.

        West Seattle to downtown is already built and running fine. It just needs to run more often. I wonder if the biggest improvement (other than better frequency) to the route is better connecting bus service. It is pretty good on West Seattle (although I assume it could be made better) but on the other side it doesn’t look that great to me. The Madison BRT might change that, though. Fast, frequent service cutting across the main flow of buses could easily change things. Folks would still have walk a block or two, but not as much as they do now.

      2. The West Seattle shuttle is hourly, so if you’re going to Alki you have a 10-minute transfer wait one direction and a 50-minute wait the other direction. The shuttle needs to arrive before the boat departs and wait 10-15 minutes for people to board and deboard and then go. That’s the only way to make it an effective transit corridor and maximize ridership. They probably can’t do it with one bus so they’d need another bus, which costs money. But that’s the only way to turn it into a real transit corridor rather than just a niche product for the view.

      3. It’s every 30 minutes Monday through Friday and every 60 minutes late night and weekends. During the winter it’s Monday through Friday peak hours only.

      4. Night and weekends are still every half-hour; take a look at the schedule. (It doesn’t run at all after 8:00 or so.)

      5. The Kirkland-UW ferry idea has been kicked around for at least a quarter of a century. I remember getting very excited about it in ’89 when I lived in Kirkland and worked at UW. Then U-Pass came along and the UW got much better bus service.

    2. The similarities between Vancouver BC and Seattle are sometimes surprising. For example, North Vancouver is a bit like West Seattle. Both are fairly close to the main city, yet separated by a body of water which also has a freeway across it. They both have ferries right to downtown. So I looked it up, and the ferry (what they call the SeaBus) runs every fifteen minutes during the day (from 6:15 AM to 7:30 PM). North Vancouver has a lot more people, but this is still something to consider. That kind of service to West Seattle would change the way people look at the ferry (it would certainly change the way i look at it).

      1. Seabus also runs more frequently than our water taxi. And, from a glance at the map, it looks like its north terminus is much more built up than Seacrest Park.

      2. Yes, North Vancouver is not at all comparable to Seacrest Park. The former has ~90,000 people, a couple dozen high rise buildings, a huge shopping centre right at the SeaBus landing, and more. The latter is basically a taco stand, a bike rental shop, a bluff, and large single-family homes.

      3. Yes, North Van has significant employment too and the alternative is either going around via the 2nd Narrows bridge (I assume this was the freeway mentioned in the post?) or over the Lion’s Gate which is a huge choke point. The south end is also right at the Waterfront station which is the terminus of both SkyTrain lines.

        It would take a lot to make West Seattle/downtown water taxi look anything like the SeaBus. A lot that will never happen (i.e. upzoning the West Seattle waterfront and getting a subway terminus near the waterfront in Seattle).

      4. @GlenBikes

        That being said, the West Seattle/Downtown run has much, much better numbers than any of the proposed routes. If the county wants to invest more in passenger ferries, the West Seattle route is probably the best candidate for it at this point.

      5. Shh, don’t mention a waterfront subway terminus or they’ll start thinking about a ferry station for the Ballard-West Seattle line… and a Fauntleroy station. That’s what mucked up the C (Fauntleroy) and F (Tukwila Sounder detour), and may be a lesser issue for Madison BRT (since it’s just two blocks from the other viable terminus). But the logic of a frequent transit line going out of its way to serve an infrequent ferry is unsound.

      6. >> Yes, North Vancouver has … ~90,000 people, a couple dozen high rise buildings … significant employment …

        So, what you are saying is that North Vancouver has a lot more people and destinations than West Seattle. Can someone explain to me again why light rail makes sense for West Seattle, but not North Vancouver. I’m confused, because a city (Vancouver) that has three times the transit ridership per capita as us doesn’t have light rail to the area (North Vancouver) that you are saying is heads and shoulders above the area (West Seattle) that just has to have light rail the next go round.

        Or, to put it a different way, if we can’t justify a couple more trips on the ferry, how the hell can we justify a multi-billion dollar light rail line?

      7. West Seattle has about 90,000 people on the peninsula within the City of Seattle.

        And the Water Taxi actually sucks for getting to most of West Seattle.

      8. Also, the population of the North Vancouver District Municipality was about 87,000 people last year but that is a substantially larger area (about 5 x 10 miles) than West Seattle. The City of North Vancouver population last year was 52,000 people, which may be a bit smaller than West Seattle physically.

        I figure West Seattle for the purposes of these conversations is everything west of the Duwamish and SR 509 and north of the city limits – basically the whole peninsula. The City of Seattle divides it into the West Seattle and Delridge neighborhoods that together have a population of about 86,000 last I looked.

      9. North Vancouver has a large land area, but the population is concentrated in a fairly compact sliver of land.

        The ferry dock is on the left side of this photo.

        Most of North Vancouver’s area is made of of hills like those in the background. But it’s the density in the foreground that makes transit work. There’s a lot within walking distance of the dock, and most everything in North Vancouver is no more than a short bus ride away.

        None of this looks like anything on the west shore of the Duwamish.

      10. >> Seabus also runs more frequently than our water taxi.

        Yes, that is what I stated in my comment.

        >> SeaBus ridership is much, much higher than our water taxi, though.

        Yes, that is my point. Increased frequency leads to increased ridership. I may be stating the obvious, but frequency matters. There is a nice summary of this idea here (under the heading Frequency Matters): http://www.humantransit.org/2015/07/mega-explainer-the-ridership-recipe.html

        >> North Vancouver … population is concentrated in a fairly compact sliver of land.

        Yes, that is what I meant when I said “North Vancouver has a lot more people.” Perhaps I should have been more explicit (as Dan was). I meant pretty much the same thing. There are areas of North Vancouver that are far more densely populated than any parts of West Seattle. But as the picture shows, it isn’t like there is one little spot next to the ferry where everyone lives (it doesn’t look like Madison Park). As Dan said, a lot of people take the bus to the ferry. The City of North Vancouver itself does not contain the ferry dock (and the city is a lot more dense than the district municipality that surrounds it — see Wikipedia). Frequent buses move along the main corridors and connect to the ferry as well as go over the bridges.

        But it is important to note that the area close to the ferry is typical for West Seattle. Meanwhile, the areas next to it are more densely populated than average. Most of West Seattle (as defined by Paul — a definition I can agree with) has a population under 10,000 people per square mile (as shown on the census map — http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?useExisting=1&layers=302d4e6025ef41fa8d3525b7fc31963a). One of the bigger ones (top 5% for West Seattle) is adjacent to the southwest and contains the aptly named Ferry Avenue. There is another census block to the north of it that is well above average as well.

        So while the ferry dock in North Vancouver is typical for the area, so too is the ferry dock in West Seattle. Which is really my point. Vancouver has a top class transit system. Top three in North America in per capita transit ridership. Yet they don’t have light rail to North Vancouver. They have a combination of very frequent buses and a fairly frequent ferry. We should invest in the same before we assume that something costing billions more will magically provide a better outcome.

        I would not expect ridership on the West Seattle ferry to come close to ridership on SeaBus. But neither would ridership on West Seattle light rail come close to ridership on North Vancouver light rail — a system they didn’t even bother to build. But at least the combination of frequent ferries and frequent buses doesn’t cost an enormous amount of money. Investing in additional ferries and additional bus infrastructure and additional bus service might be out of proportion to the number and concentration of people in West Seattle, but it will be a much better value.

    3. I wish there was better coverage to get you into actual alki….seacrest is great but far from the main strip of alki and further west..also belltown connection? As one reader already said the 56 beats the water taxi past about Marion or university.

  3. Of primary importance is getting the transit connections figured out. Bus route 773 is reasonably coordinated with the water taxi:

    773 arrives at Seacrest, Water Taxi Departs:

    6:11 am, 6:15 am
    6:40 am, 6:45 am
    7:11 am, 7:15 am
    7:41 am, 7:45 am
    and so on.

    That level of schedule correspondence will have to happen at some of the rest of these locations for this to work.

    Also, it would be good to see what can be done to reduce the amount of staff. The Port Orchard to Bremerton ferry gets by with nobody on the dock, but the minute the first three year old runs off the edge of the dock in front of a boat that will probably change.

    1. The one oddity to that coordination is that on any extended service days (friday/saturday nights and game nights) there is no connecting bus service despite the water taxi running.

  4. So the Ballard route, which would originate from a sparsely populated area with little to no parking and zero transit access, would go to pier 50, bypassing pretty much all of downtown Seattle and necessitating a lengthy walk to get to the closest part of what I would consider the edge of the CBD. Who the hell would take this abomination?

    1. The report called for a new park and ride ro be put near the Ballard route. It still sounds like a bad idea to me though.

      If they want tourist friendly routes, maybe they should start with weekend service?

    2. I work within walking distance of Pier 50, and live in Ballard (more toward 15th). I could see taking the afternoon ferry at times in the summertime– when, during an event (or fishpocalypse) it takes 30 or more minutes to get out of downtown, only to have the bridge go up for a sailboat. But it would not be something I would take every day.

    3. No one. That’s why there’s no Shilshole station on North Sounder. There would be zero additional operating cost to have the trains stop there, but the miserable potential ridership isn’t worth the capital cost of providing parking and station platforms. An expensive-to-operate ferry service is even less justifiable.

      1. If north Sounder had a Shilshole station, ST would use it as an excuse to charge the north King subarea 1/4 of the line’s eggregious operating costs (in addition to the cost of the actual station), since, after all, they would have 1/4 the non-downtown stations! This would effectively serve as a large transfer of funds from King County to Snohomish County to help build Link to Everett. With no station, ST cannot plausibly do this.

        So, if you look at it this way, all of Seattle actually benefits from not having that station.

    4. This was also an issue with the SoundRunner. I almost took SoundRunner once as even as awful as the location would be, it still penciled out as being faster to go from Edmonds to Kingston to downtown Seattle using the ferries than to try to use the poorly executed bus transfers.

      The once per afternoon trip killed that idea though.

      It might have been nice to have some sort of foot ferry terminal by the Pier 86 Fishing Pier so it is possible to get to the 15, 24 and 33. I’m not sure where else you would go with stuff coming from the north. There aren’t a lot of waterfront locations that are really that great in terms of their transit access.

  5. Was an SLU dock studied as a Seattle terminus, or just UW and Pier 50? I don’t see any of these routes making sense, and in any case we would buy better mobility with better bus frequency and ubiquitous bus priority lanes, but I feel like MOHAI would be the most sensible terminus for a new service like this, with a 1-minute walk to the streetcar for last mile connections instead of a 7-minute walk to UW Link.

    1. They probably wanted to avoid the long time penalty of the 7KT (or KN if you prefer) drive through Union Bay, the Cut, and Portage Bay.

      1. Likely the case. Still Zach’s point is well taken, connecting on the west side of MOHAI with the SLUTram, Kenmore Air, and several transit routes offers many advantages over a SE Campus stop.

    2. They studied a lot of trip pairs, including lake union ferries. Only these three routes made the cut for their extremely generous conditions.

      That should tell you something about ferry service in general between most of the intra King County destinations.

    3. A Ballard (Shilshole) – South Lake Union route was studied and rejected. But SLU wasn’t looked at in the context of cross-Lake Washington service.

      Here’s the entire matrix of routes that were screened.

      Jane Hague made a related observation in the meeting. IIRC, she mentioned an old study of service across Lake Union to SLU. It was unpromising at the time, but a lot has changed in SLU since then.

      Bringing Lake Washington service into SLU multiplies the recreational boater conflicts vs just terminating into UW.

      1. My guess is that between having to find a legitimate dock upstream of the locks, coupled with 7 knot speed limits in the cut and Lake Union, plus the fact that a land version of that vessel exists (the 40), should have made a BallardSLU ferry DOA.

    4. It would have to be the speed limits. It still might be practicable with all of the changes to SLU (and more to come) for a Sydney Harbour-style service, where there is one major terminal and many ferries that hop from point to point, some boats larger but many smaller than what we use as passenger-only boats. Sydneysiders don’t seem to mind–for many trips–a short ferry ride even if it stops at a couple of intermediate stops; picture “lines” like SLU – Gasworks – Fremont or UW – Eastlake at U Bridge – Gasworks – Eastlake – SLU. Hopping back and forth across the waterway actually is a selling point there as it makes very difficult trips straightforward. Want to go from Gasworks to SLU? Boat is probably at least as fast as a bus to UW and a transfer to an Eastlake bus or Link/SLUT. Eastlake to Fremont? Probably there as well.

      There are faster/larger boats to further destinations such as Manly that take 40-50 minutes (imagine Kirkland–SLU). This is useful where a large number of potential origins/destinations are right near the dock as in Kirkland (Manly has the same, although of course also has a beach destination).

      The ferry docks are often at the end of a neighborhood street rather than in a major commercial/residential center. Madison Park has a similar feel (not suggesting that as an option, unless Madison BRT actually went all the way to the lake…but a benefit is that it might piss some of my neighbors off); some docks have little or no commercial areas at all. Small boats, a street end and small dock is all that is needed. It’s a way to connect a transit “grid” across an area that has no other surface possibilities.

  6. Of the three routes, Kirkland to UW would seem to have the most potential. There’s already housing and transit a few blocks away on the Kirkland side, and a route 255 stop could be added next to the Marina, where the bus currently passes it by without a stop. I would personally find it useful not just for Kirkland->UW trips, but also Kirkland->downtown trips via Link.

    It should also be a no-brainer to operate the ferry on Husky game days, even if Argosy complains that their $50/person cruise is being undercut.

    That said, I’m still somewhat skeptical that even this route is going to be viable. Boats are very expensive to build and operate compared to buses, and spending all that capital cost for just three round trips per day seems impossible to be cost efficient, even if every boat fills up with $5/person fares. The reverse-direction trips, of course, would never even come close to filling up. I’ve been on deadhead buses going back to the base with more passengers on board than some of the reverse-direction 540 trips.

    Meanwhile, when the new 520 bridge opens, the competing bus option will be largely immune to traffic congestion, at least between Kirkland and Montlake.

    1. Yep, as we said above, none of these routes (even the one that looked most promising — Kirkland to UW) works out. I was thinking the same thing — a half dozen times a year it would for Husky games, but the private market is already providing that. Nice ideas, it was worth looking into, but it just doesn’t work.

  7. I hope our taxpayer money doesn’t get wasted on this. Government should be in the business of providing cost-effective services to the poor masses, not luxury boat rides to those that have time to waste. Mass transit over land is always cheaper and faster than over water. That’s why societies always build bridges when they can. I’d much rather see this money spent on metro bus service to Shilshole Marina and Golden Gardens, even if it’s just a shuttle to Ballard Ave and Market St.

    1. >> Mass transit over land is always cheaper and faster than over water

      Ridiculous. It is a matter of building what makes sense. In this case, the ferries don’t make sense. But don’t make a blanket statement that is demonstrably false (cough, cough — greatest transit system in North America — cough, cough — Staten Island).

  8. A 20 minute time penalty? That’s absurd. If I had an extra 20 minutes to spend heading into work, (from transit times, not even from driving times!) I would not spend it on my commute, no matter how pleasant or scenic. I’d walk in the local park, read the paper, or get more sleep!

    I sure hope we don’t waste any more tax dollars here. I agree with the other commenters, though. The money could be productively spent on frequency to west Seattle and better connections there.

  9. Why does King County call them “water taxis”? When I hear the phrase water taxi, I think of a private taxicab, but in the water. I don’t think of public transportation. Vancouver’s “Seabus” is so much more logical. Or ferry.

    Also, in addition to the travel time competitiveness, what about fares? If the water taxi will be $2 more than a bus in each direction, would people choose it even if it takes the same time?

    1. Water taxi makes me think of the tiny little vessels in False Creek in Vancouver that take you to Granville Island, which basically leave when full. I think Victoria has similar vessels. Something like that might work from UW to SLU (given Lake Union is less likely to have weather problems), but not on Lake Washington or Elliott Bay.

    2. We already have the West Seattle C bus.

      I don’t like the name “water taxi” either, as it connotes private, more expensive, and you get to tell the driver where to go.

      “Foot ferry” had more of an affordable public transportation, on a fixed route, ring to it. Maybe that’s why the locals went with “water taxi”, to keep out the newcomers, not getting it that more newcomers is the key to more frequency.

      1. The Vashon and Bremerton routes are called foot ferries. “Water Taxi” is the brand name for the West Seattle route. The old prewar ferries were called the Mosquito Fleet. That included among others a route from Kirkland to Madison Park. Interim proposals to revive Lake Washington ferries and East Sound ferries (e.g., Edmonds-Seattle) and cross-sound ferries (e.g., Kingston-Seattle) were usually called foot ferries or passenger ferries or mosquito fleet, not water taxis. The “water taxi” name seems to be an innovation of this study or news reporters. The report itself (2nd attachment at link above), at quick glance, uses “passenger-only ferry”, the counties’ traditional technical term. (counties’, plural, since Kitsap County has also shown on-again, off-again interest.)

      2. Both the Vashon and West Seattle routes are now branded “Water Taxi”. I wonder if this is a recent thing. As of Jan. 1 of this year, the County assumed the functions that were previously in the KC Ferry District. Maybe the re-brand happened with that move?

        Relatedly, I notice there is no longer a ferry tax on my property tax this year. It was always tiny – last year’s levy equated to $1.39 on a $400K house. So, if the routes are expanded, it’s being paid for out of County general taxation?

      3. The Vashon and West Seattle lines have been called water taxis for a long time, probably for at least as long as the Ferry District has been running them. The old WSDOMA Seattle-Vashon line was a foot ferry, but when WSDOMA shut it down and King County took it over I think it was given the Water Taxi brand that was already in use on the West Seattle line.

    3. I was thinking the same thing. Although I think the term SeaBus is pretty silly as well. Just call it a passenger ferry.

  10. A transit blog should mention a consideration a lot more important than ridership, fares, and scheduling. traffic control. We might want to check out the maritime traffic control of a hundred years ago. Passenger boats were slower than now, but there were a lot more of them.

    And other harbor traffic is a lot bigger and faster. Weather also routinely cancels WSDOT ferries. So there’s a good chance that Puget Sound and Lake Washington themselves could take down as much service as the single-car crashes that take down I-5 every couple of days.

    Probably overkill to get the DSTT in here, but where drowning is more likely than missed connections due to fare collection, KC Metro’s attitude toward traffic control won’t “wash” on the water.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Good point about the weather! How routinely are WSDOT ferries and the existing water taxis cancelled? And would Lake Washington be better, considering that it’s not connected to the ocean?

      1. I don’t have the numbers on this, but I can’t imagine the West Seattle route being interrupted very often for weather reasons. It stays entirely within Elliot Bay, so there isn’t much fetch to build up a seastate, especially considering that a lot of the big storms tend to be southerly winds.

        I think a UW-Kirkland route would be pretty reliable during most weather because the bridge tends to act as a breakwater. UW-Kenmore would have more trouble, but still not nearly as bad as anything getting out into the main channel of the sound (i.e. Vashon or Shilshole routes).

      2. Outside of the Port Townsend-Coupeville (Keystone) route (mostly due to rough seas/high winds, but occasionally due to fog), WSF service rarely gets cancelled due to fog.

        The Vashon-Seattle water taxi does get shut down due to rough seas/high wind on occasion, but not very often.

      3. Somebody on staff explained at the meeting that the West Seattle service is 97% on-time (within five minutes of schedule). I’d assume they’re not excluding cancelled runs.

        It surely helps that they have more runs in the summer months, but that’s still a healthy on-time rate.

      4. Almost all of the WSF ferry runs that are cancelled due to low tides relate to the ferry landing at Keystone/Coupeville. The ferry terminal there is in a really shallow bay, and the ferry will run aground at less than a given tide level. (Thus, the special smaller ferries that had to be built specifically for that run.)

        There is also a tide level at Vashon where car ferries might have problems loading certain long trucks due to the low tide. However, that doesn’t affect much of the traffic, and it is a somewhat rare occurrence.

        Other than that, there are no other trips or routes that would be cancelled due to low tides. And none of these would affect any of the passenger-only ferries, since they are smaller boats.

  11. I know that there needs to be time alloted for docking and getting started, but could the boat go faster than 35 knots (40MPH)? If they could get to 60 MPH, I wonder if the time difference could start to go away. Interestingly, the Seabus of Vancouver tops out at 11.5 knots.

    I ask the question out of ignorance, I have no idea what is possible.

    1. Sure, but it would require a different hull and drive-train on the ferry, and it would be way more expensive to operate. Most “fast” passenger ferries have a cruising speed around 25-35 knots. Once you get too much above that, the physics of moving through water change. Additionally, faster speeds tend to reduce passenger comfort pretty significantly. Hitting a wave at 50+ knots hurts. I’ve heard stories of guys in the coastguard that have had major spine damage from this. That is why all high speed patrol vessels and the like have hydraulic or pneumatic impact mitigating seats.

      Short answer: Possible, yes. But it would cost 5 times as much to build and operate. So, its not going to happen.

    2. And just to head off anyone thinking about it: no, hydrofoil ferries like the ones on Lake Como don’t help. They actually top out at 35 knots too. A passenger ferry is just too heavy to go much faster than that on foils without causing major cavitation and ventilation issues.

    3. The fastest ferries in the world (from a quick search) run at ~60 knots (~70 mph). The problem is that most boats don’t go much past 10-20 knots (sailboats even slower), so it would be extremely unsafe to run the ferry at that speed for very long. It would be like getting on a freeway going 15mph and trying to drive 70. Except that you have no lanes, no guarantee which direction other cars are traveling, and no real brakes (you can run the engines in reverse but it still takes time to stop). And that’s in perfect weather. On top of that, docking and undocking takes a while (all maneuvers at a few knots, time to tie and untie) and that’s what probably will take up most of the time.

      In short, you can probably get faster ferries, but it’ll save you at most a few minutes travel time on such short routes.

    4. The West Seattle water taxi used to be faster but the waterfront residents sued saying its wake was damaging their bulkheads, so it runs slower now.

      1. Wasn’t that the Bremerton speed ferry they were complaining about? I had not heard of complaints lodged agains the West Seattle ferry.

    5. It doesn’t make much difference on this run. But if we decided to run a ferry from Tacoma to Seattle it would. There are faster ferries in the world (mostly in Australia) but the Clipper IV (to Victoria — which replaced the old Princess Marguerite) is very fast. If my math is correct, it could go from Tacoma to Seattle in about an hour, making it about as fast as Sounder, and much faster than Link (should it ever reach Tacoma). There might be some complaints about wake, but at least the precedent has been set (by the other ferry).

  12. As someone living on Mercer Island and commutes to Renton, a South Mercer-Renton line would be nice… :)
    but then again, displacing multi million dollar homes on the south end of Mercer Island is gonna cost so much money, and the ridership/demand doesn’t even remotely justify that..
    A better bet would probably be 405 BRT or ERC Link/Sounder

    1. In the Art Deco period the naval building (MOHAI) was built to look like a boat. We could do the same thing with Link, or just paint a boat mural on it, and call it the 21st Century Mosquito Fleet. That might increase ridership on Mercer Island too.

      1. First I thought you were being silly/sarcastic but now that I actually think about it its not that bad of an idea, especially for east link hahaha

  13. Passenger ferry transportation is useful in some situations. This includes bypassing bottlenecks, serving surge crowds for special events or shift workers, and of course providing linkages where there is no reasonable direct roadway alternative because of distance.

    Still, we should remember that ferries is a terrible mode to use for frequent, all-day transit service except when roadway travel is always prohibitive (congestion 8+ hours a day or no roadway connections). Ferries create some ecological problems as well as usually results in higher greenhouse gas emissions (because pushing through water requires more energy than rolling on land). Many times, labor rules require that lots of staff be involved. Yes,, it’s cool! Yes, it’s romantic and pastoral! Still, it’s not a great base strategy for transit.

  14. I think we should focus on reducing trip times as the key indicator, or at the very least, decreasing variance (e.g. if the takes the same amount of time, but is more reliable then that’s okay too).

    As none of these proposals do that, it sounds like everything should be a non-starter. However, much of these calculations were done assuming that everyone is going to/from downtown which probably isn’t accurate for an all-day transit network. For example, to get to/from Madison Park to UW currently takes ~25 minutes via Bus. A water taxi could do it in much less time (it’s <2 miles). So such a route could easily save 20 minutes (round trip).

    1. That’s by far more interesting than any of the routes studied. It’s probably a good thing they didn’t study it, because the crumminess of all the other options would make this one look better than it is. While this route could actually plausibly benefit a few people, most of the people you could shuttle to a Madison Park dock would be better off with shuttles to Link stations.

  15. I don’t really see much value in any of these, especially the Ballard to Downtown line. But I see people pointing out that there is no transit to the Ballard dock where the ferry would serve. If that were to happen, I would imagine that the 44 would be extended to the dock, since it already goes pretty close. I mean, connecting from UW/Fremont to take a ferry to downtown doesn’t make much sense, but then again, the whole line doesn’t make much sense either.

    1. The whole line..? You don’t mean the 44 do you?

      Its one of the most heavily used routes in the city.

      I agree on the Ballard to Pier 50 ferry idea though. The numbers just don’t pan out.

  16. I live within walking distance of Shilshole and I would likely ride this daily. Having said this, I still think it is a horrible idea. Not only is this study assuming parking at Shilshole (which will never happen), they are also assuming that they can utilize the current gas dock as the ferry landing or at least that’s what there graphics represented. I don’t see the port signing on to either of these ideas at any point.

  17. Here’s a curious idea: Assign UW to own and operate the ferries for these routes on Lake Washington!

    1. UW could offer the ferries for large events and charge a premium for using them.
    2. UW could use the boats for many functions beyond commuter or special events trips. It could double as a floating conference center and sometimes even a mobile clinic.
    3. UW could use the ferry operations as a “laboratory” to test lots of things — user experience research, transportation technology research, personnel management studies, physiology and health research of passengers, survey testing (captive audience) just to name a few. It could even be the test forum for introducing and refining new transit technologies like advanced fare payment systems (like a cell phone Orca card or eye scan verification for payment).
    4. UW vending policies could create less complications for having food and drink on the boat or the docks.
    5. The vehicle purchase would be funded by UW sources as part of the larger campus budgeting, and not take capital funds away from local transit agencies.

  18. Boat. noun A hole in the water into which one dumps money while slowly going nowhere at great expense.

    Foot ferry. See Boat, only accomplished with someone else’s money.

  19. On June 11, 1978, the freighter Antonio Chavez, piloted by Rolf Neslund, struck the old West Seattle bridge and permanently disabled it. Capacity was instantly cut in half, with only two lanes in each direction. Metro Transit bus service was greatly damaged, so Metro quickly looked at options for getting riders to and from downtown, and one of those options was leasing Argosy boats (and other similar) and establishing a ferry service, much like today’s Water Taxi only with much greater frequency.

    But the numbers just didn’t work. The costs were too high and travel times too long, compared with simply adding more bus trips and getting the City to install a queue-jump lane for buses only.

    I think these foot ferries should be evaluated with the same hard nose that Metro used 37 years ago. Do they make sense from cost and service perspectives, compared to available bus options? Or are they vanity projects providing beautiful but expensive rides for a few?

  20. I wonder if an SLU Park – Gasworks park run wouldn’t be useful? There’s a lot of dense housing going up around gasworks, and then its a straight shot in to the streetcar for continuing journeys, especially after the downtown connector is built. Could be cool. And I might be ignorant of the busses around it, but getting to gasworks from downtown is kinda awkward right now.

    1. I was thinking that too. Or maybe Fremont to South Lake Union. The thing is, unless the bridge is up, a bus will beat it (the 26, for example, connects the Gas Works area to North Lake Union). Basically, it isn’t horribly difficult to get to South Lake Union from the north. It is getting to it from the south that is difficult. But there is no waterway connection from the south that makes sense.

      It is kind of an interesting geographical puzzle. For a ferry to make sense, the route has to be competitive with driving. But the boat time is a bit tricky. A short crossing is great — but then you spend a significant amount of time at the dock. On the other hand, if the boat trip is too long, then a bus would catch up to it (e. g. Kirkland to the UW). There are only a handful of spots where it makes sense. Then you have to have at least a decent amount of demand along with the infrastructure to support it. Given all that, it isn’t that surprising that the only route that makes sense is the one that we already have — West Seattle to downtown.

Comments are closed.