Sound Transit 3 isn’t the only “Proposition 1” on the ballot next Tuesday. Kitsap Transit has an ambitious proposal for year-round passenger ferries from Bremerton (July 2017), Kingston (July 2018), and Southworth (July 2020).

From May-September, the ferries would operate with all-day, bidirectional service from all 3 terminals, with an impressive span of service from 5am-9pm Monday-Thursday, 5am-11pm on Fridays, and 9am-11pm on Saturdays (no Sunday service). From October-April, the service would operate only during weekday peak periods.screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-11-24-37-am

Fares would be $12 round-trip, and travel time advantages would be enormous. Current state ferries from Bremerton are infrequent, and the trip takes a full hour due to speed and wake restrictions in Rich Passage. The Bremerton foot ferry would take only 28 minutes via a special high-speed, low-wake vessel. Travel time advantages would be even more pronounced for Kingston and Southworth, negating the need to transfer to Sounder or RapidRide C.

The service would be very expensive to operate, with the goal of 28% farebox recovery rate on a $12 retail fare meaning a round-trip cost of $30-40 per passenger, and a subsidy per boarding in the $20-$30 range depending on the route. Ridership is projected at 775,000 per year.


The current foot ferries between Bremerton, Port Orchard and Annapolis would also be funded by the new plan, freeing up $1.5m per year for local and feeder bus service, with a dividend of 23,000 additional bus hours due to Kitsap’s low service-hour cost of $65. This would enable Kitsap Transit to improve frequency on a handful of bus routes, but wouldn’t likely enable a full restructure of service (for reference, the SLU extension and splitting of RapidRide C/D cost 50,000 hours).

Kitsap Transit would also take a Sound Transit-like approach to operations, being responsible for capital costs, marketing, and fare policies, while the service would be operated by the King County Marine Division, meaning there would be a single operator at Pier 50 for the 5 separate foot ferry destinations (West Seattle, Vashon, Southworth, Bremerton, and Kingston).


62 Replies to “Kitsap Transit Goes All In on Foot Ferries”

  1. Given that this actually crosses the Puget Sound, it sounds like a job made for Sound Transit if Kitsap ever joins the taxing district…

  2. With a robust network of these kind of ferries, and a change in mindset of commuters from bus/rail to ferry, the housing market in Kitsap County will go through the freakin’ roof like we’ve never seen in this state before.

    1. Bremerton had this service before. Only thing through their roofs were covered up by tarps…..

      The operating costs are so high for marine transport the service will always be pretty limited. They also didn’t include any funds to operate any service from Kingston or southworth. They are crossing their fingers for unknown grants. This is all about service to bremerton.

      A much more rationale approach would be to take the huge subsidies for the existing and uselessly slow bremerton car ferry and only operate a POF on the route.

      1. I think our big ferries are part of the charm of the region though. You can drive out to the islands for the weekend. I think it’s worth some subsidy to keep the puget sound region connected. We aren’t going broke.

        I agree most people won’t commute from Bremerton to Seattle. The trip may only take a half hour, but if the ferry only leaves every hour, you need to get there early, which adds to the trip time. Plus, I’m sure whatever limited amount of parking they have will fill up quick.

      2. The passenger capacity per boat is around 118 which people forget about lining up just for a seat versus lining up to get a bench. If you end up waiting for 20-30 minutes just to get a seat, those time savings are negligible and many are expecting to walk right up.

        Kingston and Southworth aren’t zoned for more development let alone nor have infrastructure ready for that change if it were to come in order to provide success for it.

      3. Driving around sucks! Especially during rush hour traffic. I’ve been taking the ferry daily now for a few weeks and I can tell you that the car ferry is faster than driving around through traffic and cheaper too, especially if you use a bycicle or motorcycle.

      4. Kitsap Transit’s published financial plan for the proposed fast ferry DOES include funds to launch and operate service from Kingston by 2018 and Southworth by 2020.

        Yes, federal grants are a big piece of the startup capital plan, as they are with most large transit infrastructure projects across the nation.

        Yes, Kitsap Transit does have bonding capacity in case it does not receive the federal grants needed to carry out the plan.

    2. The next recession we hit, these will be the first that go. If people base their housing choices on a locally funded, volatile ferry service, they are fools.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love these ferries and would vote for them if I could, but they will not cause some renaissance on the peninsula, they’ll just make people commutes better and open up a small, but non-insignificant amount of tourism, at least for Bremerton (Kingston maybe; Southworth is basically a ferry terminal surrounded by houses).

      If they are successful, get WSDOT or (as someone stated above) Sound Transit to fund them, which will be much more secure in a recession, then we’ll talk housing markets.

    1. There are times when the existing Bainbridge Island to Poulsbo to Port Townsend route is fairly close to competitive. I made the trip once in 2.5 hours, including the 15 or so minute layover at Poulsbo. Add the time required in the auto queue and you can beat driving.

      Trouble is that it only works on weekdays.

  3. What is a foot ferry? To me it sounds like a bridge you walk across, or maybe an airport style moving walkway, but over water. Do you mean a boat that only carries people rather than cars? If so, I’m sure there’s a much, much better name than “foot ferry”.

    1. Good luck getting anyone to use any other term though. That term can be found on timetables over 100 years old.

  4. Too bad there’s no Sunday service. Maybe they’ll be able to implement special service for Seahawks games.

  5. There have been issues in this issue that haven’t seen much light unless you look.

    1) There was an attempt to gerrymander a ferry district in order to have full support given the rural areas do not have little to no retail sales yet still would pay.
    2) Our current transit service is very skeletal with hourly service and required transfers all over. This is not a way to run a system. Esepcially with transfers in the middle of nowhere. We have a consultant that has come on to look at restructuring and maybe use 1/10 of 1 percent for bus service.
    3) The 1.5 million is being used currently for the foot ferry service but proponents have basically said this somehow “protects” the current service. Also the budget may dip into reserves with a projected $3 million deficit for this next year. If one or two items are off there maybe trouble ahead.
    4) Kitsap Transit promised a restoration of Sunday service as soon as sales revenues were up. That didn’t happen. Although I’d rather have 2-3 more service hours on a Saturday given it runs from 9-5 with some routes not starting until 10.
    5) I have heard about radio issues that have been going on for two years for on call service from some operators. They have hired consultants and still cannot solve the issue.

    Prioritization should be on a fully functioning service over a foot ferry to Seattle. Otherwise growth will likely overwhelm our existing services.

    My opinion is the first priority is to have a functional bus service, then get a ferry

    1. For those following closely, they have also made wild claims about traffic reduction that will never come to pass. In the end, it’s also hard to justify leveling a sales tax increase on a poor family in East bremerton so that a highly paid Seattle worker can save 20 minutes on their commute.

      1. Isn’t the point of the ferry to give that poor family in east Bremerton greater economic opportunity by connecting them to the booming job center of Seattle?

        Not ever commuter is a highly paid white collar worker.

      2. The irony is their own market studies suggest 90% of users would be above 50k with 45% making above 100k. The AMI in Bremerton is 39k for the City Limits. So it looks like a distribution to the wealthy and not really helping our most vulnerable.

        Is this an essential service? I would say no. Nice to have but not needed.

        In Seattle, there is an issue however, traffic congestion ain’t getting better and buses won’t solve it.

        We don’t have the capacity crunch here, we have the travel time issue. But given the limited capacity of the vessels, you would potentially have to show up with as much time as it would have been to just walk on the larger boats.

  6. Let me just say considering:

    a) Kitsap Transit has serious issues of its own and it is and should NOT be a priority of a transit system to provide premium services when currently existing services are insufficient.

    b) Passenger-Only Fast Ferries have found themselves slowed down due to wake wash & maintenance issues.

    c) This proposal is mainly at the behest of economic development causes and proponents…

    Why not just make it easy for the private sector to provide these fast ferries? I mean, seriously why not just create some regulatory relief and step out of the way so transit dollars are spent on all people – not just upper middle class welfare?

    Stuff like this is why I think transit boards should be directly elected. It is time for a shakeup in Kitsap Transit.

    1. Right, it’s a really high per-passenger subsidy to try to turn Bremerton into a commuter suburb? Doesn’t sound like good policy to me.

      1. Bremerton isn’t going to be a commuter suburb any more than Everett or Tacoma will. Bremerton will be it’s own city with stand-alone economic activity. Bremerton’s leaders just want to better connect the city & it’s labor force to Seattle’s multiple job centers (downtown, port, UW).

        Other cities are desperate to improve their access to Seattle. I don’t understand why you are so shocked Bremertons leaders feel the same.

        Is it worth the cost? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t understand how you can so easily dismiss their starting premise of “better connections to seattle is good”

      2. Heh, I’ve heard a lot of arguments both ways on the merits of elected vs. appointed boards, vs. whatever ST is, etc… and usually (especially from the STB technocrat angle) there’s a lot of concern over how this would affect the decisions the board makes. Similarly, there was a lot of this sort of concern (on both sides of the issue) when Seattle switched from an at-large council to districts.

        Now I’m thinking about it more as an analog to the American experiment. I’d state that in one sentence as, “Establish a democratic republic with liberty and justice.” There are four important values there, and sometimes some of them are in tension (many examples all over the country and the world), but the big thesis of the experiment is that in the long run a commitment to democracy and republicanism will ensure the advancement of liberty and justice. The fears of directly elected transit boards strike me as a bit similar to the fears of directly elected Presidents that caused the Electoral College to be introduced.

        The values of transit boards are a little smaller and more specific than for overall national leadership, and I’m not sure what all of them are off the top of my head… and the question is whether a commitment to more democracy in this realm will ensure the advancement of whatever all those values are, in the long term. From my general perspective I’m inclined to shout, “Yes!” Then I think about the ways that outsider transportation proposals (e.g. monorail, viaduct park) have gone, and then I start to see the particular values for transit boards in their failures, and I start to mutter, “No.” Then I think about the infuriating ways insider transportation proposals (e.g. DBT) have gone, and think, “Maybe.”

        For now, we elect all these people we call insiders or oligarchs — we elect them to govern generally, but then when it comes to transit we vote on some proposal to form a transit district covering some area (perhaps following general plans written by planners and ratified by legislatures), then sit the elected leaders on their boards, where they meet (along with various interests that might have their ears) to design and market packages that they think people will vote for. There’s a lot of democracy in there but maybe it’s not in the right places (cf. what the Electoral College has turned into today). Maybe it allows for just the wrong mix of pandering, opaqueness, and conflicts of interest. A board without all those mayors would at least avoid some of those conflicts…

      3. On the other hand, the city’s “Move to Bremerton” page all but encourages sprawl:

        “With a median price half that of homes on the Seattle side of the water it’s no wonder Bremerton attracts residents who work in Seattle take their money further by living well in the West Sound.”

        Passenger ferry-based sprawl is probably better than auto-based sprawl. If the boat has good stabilization, then you can work on the ferry a lot more efficiently than on a commuter train which has multiple stops, and similar to a nonstop commuter express bus. The commuter bus probably has a better environment to doze off in than the other choices although a boat might not be too bad. However, with a carbon tax, all the other modes can be made low(er) carbon – electric trains, CNG buses, etc. Boats will probably always run on petroleum.

        Certainly, a lot of people commute from Bainbridge to Seattle today because of the relatively short trip time. Bremerton has structural disadvantages but its leaders seem to want to make it the next Bainbridge.

      4. Al;

        I think a directly elected transit board would have a lot of transit advocates and some skeptics. I think the echo chamber (Exhibit A being Sound Transit, Exhibit B being Kitsap Transit) nonsense has gotta end. It’s not good for transit in an era of transportation reform to be governed by the echo chamber and by boards like Skagit Transit that don’t ask the tough questions.


      5. Everett and Tacoma were more independent economies at one point; now they’re pretty interdependent on a day-to-day level, becoming part of one larger economy. Travel-wise that means there’s a lot of daily travel between them and Seattle. Transit-wise it’s possible to serve these trips reasonably efficiently.

        If it was possible to serve Seattle-Bremerton trips efficiently it would be fine to encourage that higher level of travel, and that kind of economic integration! It could benefit some people and bring some economic opportunity! But something with the high costs and environmental downsides of these will have a hard time delivering that.

      6. The cost of a Seattle to Tacoma trip on Link may wind up being fairly high. It won’t show up very well due to the background noise of all the other trips made on Link.

        Pre ULink, operating cost was around $1.88 per passenger mile. That’s $56.40 for a Tacoma to Seattle trip. However, these ferries have no way to make an intermediate stop to share the cost with various other trip pairs.

      7. Glenn – operating costs per mile includes a huge chunk of fixed operating costs. It doesn’t scale with distance, so that math doesn’t work.

      8. An elected transit board is not a magic pill. The effects could be good or bad; it all depends on who gets on the board. If we can find enough Martin Dukes, Rob Johnsons, and Jarrett Walkers and successfully get them on the board, then it would be good. If the opponents get Kemper Freemon, Tim Eyman, John Niles, and the Save Our Trails activists on the board, then it would be bad. Many voters don’t understand transit and can be swayed by inaccurate propaganda, and the suburban subareas have a greater propensity for that.

        The advantage of having mayors and county councilmembers on the board is that they’re responsible for their cities’ economy and life so they can’t be blind to the need for better transit like some activists can: it affects their constituents and their employers and how their city performs and competes.

    2. What regulations are hindering commercial operators?

      Commercial operators would not only charge an ubsubsidized rate, they’d also charge extra for a profit, especially since they’re not likely to have many competitors. So expect fares to be $20 or $30 and only the wealthy can use it.

      1. Joe – that’s like saying no need for link to Everett because there are already buses with sufficient capacity and frequently. And I know you won’t say that.

        It’s improving service quality (here, speed and frequency) on an existing route. Just because service already exists doesn’t mean spending on better service is a bad idea

      2. Based on the numbers above, it sounds like operations costs would be $40-$50 per-passenger. Of course, that’s with the number of riders attracted by (already upper-crust) $12 fares. At even higher fares ridership would of course be lower so per-rider operations costs would be even higher. Or service levels are lowered, but this also makes the service less convenient and lowers ridership even more. That’s a death-spiral. That’s why commercial operators aren’t jumping to operate this today.

        The same is true of more efficient forms of public transit (and generally a lot of the stuff the government subsidizes, but I’ll stick to transit). For more efficient transit we generally believe the public benefits are worth the public costs.

        Maybe someone can sell people in Kitsap County on the idea of the public benefits now, but then next recession when they go looking for cuts, they’ll ask, “Am I riding this thing?”, and they’ll take a hard look. It sounds like that’s happened before.

      3. AJ;

        Apples and oranges. Buses get stuck in traffic and are sometimes at capacity, fall off schedule and become unreliable for commuting. The current ferries are not getting stuck, not near capacity and keep their schedule – unlike fast ferries which back in the MV Chinook days were horrendous.

        Again, fast ferry fiascoes have caused dramatic political change in the past. Exhibit A being British Columbia’s Pacificatastrophe that elected 2.5 terms of Gordon Muir Campbell (just so happens there were 2.5 in-service PacifiCats in 2001) and arguably 4 terms of a BC Liberal government kicking out the socialist BCNDP.

        I-695 did 1,001 things wrong but at least stopped more MV Chinooks from being built. Let’s hope a taxpayer veto in Kitsap County Tuesday forces change in Kitsap Transit. Real change in priorities and hopefully elected transit boards.

    3. Why not just make it easy for the private sector to provide these fast ferries? I mean, seriously why not just create some regulatory relief

      Coast Guard regulations about boat staffing are not easily changed, and for good reason. You may in fact need to literally have an act of congress to do that.

      Getting congress to act in any manner other than irresponsible hasn’t been so easy lately.

      1. Thanks Glenn. The kind of regulatory relief I was thinking about was at the Washington State level where private sector businesses could rent/lease/share use of WSF facilities for their premium ferry businesses.

        Kitsap Transit’s plan is nonsense. Absolute nonsense. It’s not good for the Kitsap Transit service area, it’s an abuse of the small tax authority they got and it’s not a service the hoi polloi are clamoring for.

        Fast ferry fiascoes have caused dramatic political change in the past. Exhibit A being British Columbia’s Pacificatastrophe that elected 2.5 terms of Gordon Muir Campbell (just so happens there were 2.5 in-service PacifiCats in 2001). I-695 did 1,001 things wrong but at least stopped more MV Chinooks from being built. Let’s hope a taxpayer veto in Kitsap County Tuesday forces change in Kitsap Transit.

  7. One thing that could make these new ferries more useful would be rental cars at the ferry terminal on the Kitsap side. For people who live in Seattle, making a trip to the Olympic Peninsula, riding the ferry as a walk-on passenger and renting the car on the other side could be an attractive option compared to renting the car in Seattle and dealing with the ferry lines. This option may not be feasible for those loaded with lots of gear, but for people traveling light that need a car only to avoid the extremely skeletal bus KT/JT bus service, renting the car in Kingston or Bremerton could make a lot of sense. Even $12/round trip is still cheaper than taking a car on board the car ferry.

      1. Process-wise, being able to walk off the ferry to a Zipcar right there, no lines, no waiting for shuttles, would make a huge difference. Of course, any parking spaces consumed by carshare operations means fewer spaces for Kitsap locals to park their own cars, so there’s an inherent tension going on that might make the concept difficult for locals to support.

        Perhaps there are a few apartments in Bremerton or Bainbridge Island, immediately adjacent to the ferry terminal, where living car-free might be viable for those that commute to downtown Seattle for work and walk to nearby grocery stores, provided that car-sharing exists for occasional weekend trips. If so, that would increase the business case for Zipcar at Kitsap ferry terminals.

    1. Realistically something like this could be setup today with or without a fast ferry given enough demand.

      I am not sure how many would rent a car on this side versus taking their own vehicle plus cost of gas. Edmonds-Kingston has primarily been an auto dominated route and limited passenger numbers. My guess is renting a vehicle on this side for long distance travel would make the cost for taking your own vehicle seem little in comparison.

      1. Taking a car on the ferry costs a lot more than just a passenger, and you have to arrive early and wait in line, and you often have to wait for the second boat unless you travel at a low time.

  8. high-speed, low-wake vessel

    “Bullwinkle, that trick never works.” This has been tried how many times in the PNW? There are no breakthroughs in engineering or physics that make this even remotely plausible. Remember, the State ferry system was created as a stop gap measure until bridges would be built. It’s mildly amusing to watch the transit ueber alles crowd try to defend any of the great WSF sprawl.

      1. Correction that it works under very specific conditions and speeds, which aren’t possible during periods of high winds or low visibility (like this morning). If this passes, they’ll get sued again, lose, and kitsap transit and county voters will flush more money down the toilet and still have no service.

        The most disappointing thing in all this is how kitsap transits leadership has invested so much time and money into this half baked scheme.

    1. Pretty much what Mark says. I the real world this concept has tried and failed almost too many times to count. But the bigger issue is that even if it worked “as advertised” transit dollars spend to disperse density across miles of what should be a natural boundary to urban development is just wrong on so many levels. Like… there’s nothing better to do with this money on either side of the Sound???

  9. I’d like to see this discussion get larger, longer, and faster. I’m not going to link that red and white Estonian hydrofoil again, but I do remember riding a very large hovercraft from Denmark to Sweden about fifty years ago. By now, should be smoother and quieter.

    But I’m wondering about the 72.6 nautical miles between Everett and Olympia parallel to I-5, but off-shore. Those Russian hydrofoils look to be equivalent of high speed railcars, or even trains. Hydrofoil same “lift” principle as wings, except using water instead of air.

    Service might best be considered low-altitude air travel- some designs literally ride on a shallow cushion of air a few feet off the water. Expensive, no question, for equipment and highly-skilled crew.

    But I’m thinking about the fastest way to deal with the exploding daily congestion the whole length of I-5 from Everett to where SR101 swings southwest around the Capitol.

    Considering the expense of the permanent and expanding blockage itself, I wonder if a waterborne airline might alleviate our case of concrete arteriosclerosis before it kills our region’s economy.


  10. As a reluctant voter for this, I will offer just a few comments.

    Living close to the Bremerton dock, the fast ferry does not do all that good a job of improving access to Seattle. We really need three to five more ferry sailings a day to give good service. Now if we could use the smaller fast foot ferries to replace the least used ferry sailings and move the big ferries so that we had almost hourly sailings that could be great.

    Those sailings from Kingston and Southworth will improve the service for those going to downtown Seattle.

    For those who currently work on the ferries going to Bremerton, it is one hour of uninterrupted time. The foot ferries will not have the table space that work often requires.

    The subsidy is too high, and the passenger capacity is too small. Should the service proved popular it would be worth looking for boats that could do better.

    1. the service would be operated by the King County Marine Division, meaning there would be a single operator at Pier 50 for the 5 separate foot ferry destinations (West Seattle, Vashon, Southworth, Bremerton, and Kingston).

      All services will serve Pier 50 in Seattle, as the article states.

  11. Bremerton is a crappy place for ferries to Seattle, unlike Eagle Harbor. The obvious solution to increasing Bremerton’s access to Seattle is to build a bridge from Bremerton to Bainbridge and bus people to the Bainbridge ferry dock. Politically it will never happen because the Bainbridge people will sue any such proposal into oblivion.

    1. Actually they did that 60 or so years ago, hence the bridge at Agate Pass. And we know how that worked out – now traffic down the whole center of the island!

      1. The whole eastern half of the Olympic Peninsula, from Port Angeles to Elma, is such a hellhole of highway sprawl anything dumped into the transportation system is going to increase traffic rather than reduce it.

        Sadly, that also includes these ferries. It’s possible to spend half an hour in traffic on SR3 getting into Bremerton in the mornings. This will just make a few more people build dream homes on some hill over there, and Bremerton will have to build a new park and ride lot to accommodate them.

      2. “Hellhole of highway sprawl”???

        Where have you been driving? Between Elma and Port Angles is almost entirely mountains and timberlands that are protected as either a National Park, National Forest, or Tribal Reservations. The few towns that are there (Hoodsport, Hamma Hamma, etc.) are practically shoehorned between the mountains and the water. Not to mentioned, it’s extremely rural. When I think sprawl, I think strip malls, housing subdivisions, 5+ lane roads etc. None of that is out there. I don’t even think there’s a traffic light between Shelton and Sequim.

        Did you mean the eastern half of the Kitsap Peninsula? Even then, only parts of it (Silverdale, Paulsbo, greater Gig Harbor/Purdy, etc.) are sprawly. Mainly along SR-16/SR-3 from the Narrows Bridge to the Hood Canal Bridge. There are some parts that are quite rural, especially if you get a couple miles off the highway.

      3. Agate Pass Bridge, IIRC, some 60 years ago was built at the north end of Bainbridge in response to islanders not wanting Bremerton too easily connected with the Winslow area.

    2. Not only that but it would be crazy expensive.

      That passage is about .6 miles wide and the depth of the channel goes down further than the Tacoma Narrows bridge. It would cost around $300-400 million for the bridge alone. That doesn’t include new supporting roadway infrastructure, property acquisition, etc.

      Then you would have to expand the Bainbridge dock which would be around another cool $300 million. Almost a half billion and then you would have the Bremerton dock sitting empty after putting in a good $45 million for a tunnel for 1000 vehicles PER DAY in addition to the Bremerton Transfer Center.

      If you were able to go freeway speeds to Bremerton, you might save 15 minutes at most if you end up downtown, likely more if you live in Silverdale and East Bremerton but that would depend on how good or bad circulation is at Bainbridge.

      1. One can thank Norm Dicks and everything wrong with government for that tunnel in Bremerton. So absurd. I took the ferry once to Bremerton and then realized driving in most hours is cheaper and faster. I don’t understand why this is a car ferry route at all.

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