Kitsap Transit showed off its newest fast ferry, MV Finest, as part of Monday’s pre-launch celebrations for the Kingston–Seattle fast ferry route. The ferry will begin regular weekday service on November 26 and run six round-trips between Pier 52 in Downtown Seattle and Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula, taking approximately 40 minutes. This is a massive improvement compared to the 1.5 hours it takes for a Kingston resident today via the car ferry to Edmonds and a transfer to either Sounder or an express bus. The debut of the fast ferry may open up the relatively quiet hamlet of Kingston (pop. 2,099 in 2010) to further growth as a more accessible bedroom community for Seattle workers.
The Kingston fast ferry is the second of three routes connecting Seattle to various points on the Kitsap Peninsula, all funded by a sales tax increase that was approved by voters in 2016. The Bremerton fast ferry, which uses the high-tech Rich Passage 1 catamaran, debuted in July 2017 and has run into occasional fleet hiccups, necessitating the use of a backup vessel. For the Kingston route, Kitsap Transit has leased the MV Melissa Ann, formerly part of an older Bremerton fast ferry trial and the King County Water Taxi system, to serve as a backup to the Finest. The Southworth route is planed to debut before 2020 using a newly-built vessel, bypassing the slow “Southworth Triangle” car ferry and an equally-slow trip on the RapidRide C Line through West Seattle.
The Finest was purchased from NY Waterways in 2017 and refurbished at a cost of $7.5 million by the Whidbey Island-based Nichols Brothers Boat Builders. She was originally built in 1996 and primarily ran on a route across the Hudson River connecting Manhattan to Weehawken, New Jersey. The Finest played a small role during the “Great Boatlift“, assisting in the evacuation of Manhattan during the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
The Finest can carry 350 passengers across its two decks and reaches a maximum speed of 35 knots (but will normally run at 29 knots). During a preview ride earlier this week, she was able to smoothly gain speed, though the fumes from the diesel engine may overwhelm those stuck on the outdoor deck.
The Kingston fast ferry may have all the signs of a fresh and new service, but it is actually part of a long history of passenger ferries that docked in Kingston. From the Mosquito fleet to the ill-fated Aqua Express that shut down in October 2005, various companies have tried unsuccessfully to serve the Kingston area with a direct ferry from Seattle due to costs and the small market. Kitsap Transit is attempting to stretch the usefulness of the fast ferry by introducing two new express buses that will connect the Kingston terminal to park-and-ride lots in Suquamish and northern Poulsbo, similar to the fast ferry feeder routes used in Bremerton.
Cruising around Puget Sound on the newest fast ferry. pic.twitter.com/czYFPsCQq6
— Seattle Transit Blog (@SeaTransitBlog) November 19, 2018
Fast ferry service will cost $2 for eastbound travel from Kingston to Seattle and $10 for westbound travel from Seattle to Kingston, payable with cash or an ORCA e-purse, since regional day passes aren’t accepted. Kitsap Transit is waiving fares for the rest of the year to encourage riders to try out the service and potentially stick around. On Friday, November 23, the Finest will be running a special preview schedule and also have waived fares for riders. In any case, the Kingston fast ferry could prove to be popular with tourists as a lower-cost alternative to Elliott Bay excursion cruises that normally start at $27 before fees. Beyond that, the usefulness of the Kingston route will have to be seen, as the market is not particularly strong. Expect plenty of seats for the reverse-direction trips for the foreseeable future, but potentially a few full boats during peak periods.