Ferries and water taxi in Seattle

Coleman Ferry Dock / photo by SounderBruce

Washington State Ferries just released its 2017 first quarter boarding statistics, revealing another milestone for Link Light Rail: For the first quarter of a year ever, Link Light Rail had more boardings than Washington State Ferries did.

Washington State Ferries had 4,960,373 boardings among all its lines for January to March of this year. Link Light Rail had 5,171,115 boardings on its single line during the same period.

This is not to say that Link Light Rail has permanently passed WSF as the third-highest ridership transit agency in the state (if treated separately from the rest of Sound Transit). Washington State Ferries’ highest-boardings quarter ever was July-September of 2016, with 7,455,613 boardings. Link’s record quarter was 5,596,453, for the same period.

21 Replies to “Link Light Rail vs. Washington State Ferries”

  1. I’m not sure this is a fair comparison given the nature of link trips (shorter, frequent) versus ferry trips (longer). What would be more meaningful would be “passenger minutes traveled” or something similar to compare the amount of time in transport.

    Still a good headline tho.

    1. It’s an interesting fact, even if they’re too different to impose the same policies on. It also adds ammunition to the claim that the state should help fund Link like most other states would, because it transports a larger percentage of state residents than the ferries do.

      1. Not to mention that ferry riders from Kitsap also frequently transfer to light rail.

      2. Is there any ORCA data showing WSF to link transfers? Would be interesting to see.

  2. How many years has each system been running? But more, isn’t this about like comparing I-5 border to border with a SR 99 between Tacoma and Federal Way? Both corridors in much larger system.

    Which same passenger can travel on same trip. But very little use for ridership comparison.

    Mark Dublin

    1. It’s not as much the years, it’s that there’s no feasible alternative for many ferry riders. Link and Sounder riders have a vast parallel freeway nearby, that may be overcrowded at times but it exists. Ferry riders would have to drive a 50-mile detour (Bremerton vs the Tacoma Narrows, South Whidbey vs Deception Pass), and some of the islands don’t have any bridges at all so you’d have to use a personal boat. And if thousands of people used individual boats, where would they all moor at in the east Sound? Egads, a boat parking problem.

      1. Isn’t the feasible alternative for many ferry riders simply not to live on an island?

      2. Vast parallel freeway which is great on Sunday morning when there is no traffic, even then its barely quicker than Sounder from the south end by the time you fart around parking somewhere. Weekday mornings, the freeway would easily take twice as long, then you have to waste a space somewhere parking a car all day thats sitting there doing nothing.

        Counting the lanes on 167 and I5, 5 to 7 or more in each direction vs one set of rails in each direction. I dunno about you, but the math seems a bit off here, lots of bandwidth for cars which is the stupidest way for commuters to get around in large cities 5 days a week, minimum bandwidth for the train which doesnt waste parking spaces, doesnt pollute anywhere near as much, order of magnitude safer for the commuter and takes the same time regardless of freeway traffic.

      3. “Isn’t the feasible alternative for many ferry riders simply not to live on an island?”

        At this level, telling people to make major changes in where they live is too much. Most of the people I know in the west sound live there full-time, take the ferries off-peak, and come to Seattle once a month or a couple times a week but not every day. Some people commute to Seattle but they live in the west Sound because they have family there, so telling them to move means moving away from their family.

        Yes, supposedly there are other people who are treating the west sound as an exurban resort — live in quiet rural land and commute to Seattle every day — but I’d hesitate to make assumptions about the totality of their impact without a lot more information. How much time do they spend in their hometown? How much do they contribute to it? Is their house larger than average there? Do they take transit to the ferry? Do they drive just for short local trips that are inevitable in those areas? Do they do anything to lower their vehicle miles traveled in any way? Some people will be yes, others no, but what’s the aggregate majority?

        In any case, we’re talking about this outside the context of any specific policy. The auto ferries will always run to bring supplies to the west sound and patients to Seattle hospitals, for basic mobility, and for the Bremerton navy base. Commuters who move to the west sound have to adjust to the whatever the ferry schedule and capacity.is. Presumably they’ve checked all this out before they moved.

        See below for a change you may not like.

  3. C’mon – lighten UP, folks. I’m betting SounderBruce is having fun with statistics, not attempting to impart Fake News.

    1. Lloyd, Brent made the posting, SounderBruce provided the photo. In fact, I was there when he took that photo.

  4. Apples and oranges, but always good to know that both fruits are producing decent crops! :)

  5. Each ferry line is part of the highway system. Isn’t that the only thing saving the ferries from collapsing after the MVET got slashed?

    1. IIRC, the WSF system operates on something around 50% state subsidy. Probably a little more. They used to be privately run. The only one left is Black Ball to Victoria although I guess you could add relative new comer Victoria Clipper to the mix. Anyway, the companies running the ferries started raising fares to keep up with increasing costs so the State stepped it and said “we can do it better/cheaper.” Bullwinkle, that trick never works. Oh well, the ferries are just a temporary fix until they can build bridges; really, that’s why they’re part of the highway system!

      1. Ferry fare recovery is around 65% of operating costs, think about double Link fare recovery for example.

  6. KUOW’s Region of Boom series is in Kitsap this month. Bremerton is recruiting commuter residents. Ayayay, wailing and gnashing of teeth! Bremerton has a bunch of smart urban condos ready, and is citing the upcoming passenger ferry as cutting the commute time from 60 minutes to 30 minutes. The city of Bremerton wants more residents, while some existing Bremertonites wish the city would focus more on the needs of working-class Kitsap rather than Seattle. C’est la vie.

    1. Should be able to do both – Bremerton is a growth center, so they’ve signed up for growth. Growth should be additional economic vitality that can be leverage to support other Kitsap residences.

      IMO, every dollar earned in Seattle but spent in Kitsap is a dollar of wealth transfer from Seattle to Kitsap.

    2. It’s avoiding job sprawl. Seattle residents could get some of those jobs. But if the jobs were scattered around Kitsap like they were around the outskirts of the Eastside and Lynnwood during the 80s, people would have to drive to them, non-drivers couldn’t apply, and Seattle residents would be at a disadvantage.

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