M/V Reliance, one of Kitsap Transit’s fast ferries (photo by author)

Beginning on Monday, Kitsap Transit will be expanding its Bremerton–Seattle fast ferry service to 24 daily sailings on weekdays. The arrival of a new vessel on the route during peak trips will allow for a frequency boost to 30-45 minutes and non-reserved sailings.

The Rich Passage 1, which launched the fast ferry service in 2017, will remain on its normal schedule. The new trips will be operated on one of the two new catamarans that Kitsap Transit acquired last year: M/V Reliance and Lady Swift. All three boats can carry 118 passengers and take about 30 minutes to make the full sailing from Bremerton to Pier 50 in Seattle.

The new sailings, which total four round trips per day, will not use the reservation system in place for Kitsap Fast Ferries. Instead, all boardings will be done via walk-ups on a first-come, first-serve basis.

New Bremerton fast ferry schedule (Kitsap Transit)

Kitsap Transit is limited to an unspecified number of sailings per week based on the impact of the vessels on the beaches of Rich Passage. Complaints and litigation from homeowners along Rich Passage caused Washington State Ferries to abandon its fast passenger ferry program in 2003 after a court-ordered slowdown. According to the Kitsap Sun, Kitsap Transit is looking at using its remaining sailing slots to add later service on Friday nights.

The Bremerton fast ferry route carried over 301,500 passengers in 2019, averaging over 25,000 per month. Ridership grew by 7 percent from 2018, despite service disruptions caused by moving to the permanent passenger facility at Colman Dock. Kitsap Transit still plans to expand fast ferry service to Southworth (near Port Orchard) later this year, pending a schedule agreement with the state to share the terminal there.

31 Replies to “Kitsap Transit expands Bremerton-Seattle fast ferry service”

    1. Mark,

      Talk to Intercity Transit. A thought, the boat would have to be capable of (and allowed) a speed of 40knots+.

      Perhaps the Hong Kong-Macau solution (Boeing Hydrojets), but all that pesky driftwood…

      Brian Bradford
      Lacey, WA

    2. Even hydrofoils are heavy energy consumers. Yes, a ferry ride to or from Olympia through the Narrows and Colvas would be beautiful, but it’s Zlot of energy to spend avoiding shoulder-running for buses on I-5 to Lakewood.

    3. Ferries are slower and more expensive than buses. We would be better served by converting car lanes on I5 to bus lanes.

    4. Ferries are only worth doing if land routes take a very long time, since ferries are expensive and slow – the docking process alone takes so long that multiple stops is never an reasonable option.

      So Vashon makes sense because it’s an island with no bridges. Without the ferry, getting from Coupeville to Port Townsend would take an entire day. West Seattle to downtown make sense because all the roads are congested and slow.

      But for Olympia-Tacoma, or Tacoma-Seattle, a good old-fashioned bus will kick its butt every single time.

    5. The Baltics also have comprehensive train and bus transit. And if they’re going across the Baltic rather than between two cities on the same side, then they’re more like cross-sound ferries. Traveling from Olympia to Seattle is more like traveling along a river, which may make sense in some places but not so much here. Are the Baltic passengers daily commuters or intercity travelers? An Olympia-Seattle route would be largely 9-5 commuters, especially if it runs only peak hours. And the travel time may be longer than a bus trip, which is already pushing two hours each way, so it would be only people who strongly prefer the view over travel time. How many buses could the ferry money fund?

  1. Thanks, Brian. Good thought. Though not sure whose “turf” those waters are, regional, county, or State.

    IT’s new fare policy is in the news a lot. Personally trying to discourage calling service”Free.” Us taxpayers still fund it. And by the balance sheet, come out money ahead. Maybe “sponsored” is better,

    Also the minimal-stop crosstown Route 1. Hearing different stories about how close we are to traffic signal preempt, which to me is the real touchstone, operationally and financially.

    Calculation I’m trying to bring into the taxpaying mind is how much money a transit system loses for every minute that any bus, train, or boat is standing still when it could be moving. Thinking Dracula.

    But sense I get is that the company’s entered a whole new period of positioning for the future.

    Because I know I’m not the only recent new resident (six years this month) who didn’t exactly leave Seattle- or its transit system- voluntarily. And many of the ones who still have regular jobs in Seattle might incline favorably toward not having to drive those sixty miles.

    Is Sam Hunt your State Senator too? Get in touch with him.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Nah, I’m stuck with JT. I’ve met Sam at the monthly democrats meeting (I’m a PCO so I’m supposed to attend).

      There are so many things wrong with the One and its implementation.

      1. Seriously, Brian, thank you for your service as a PCO. My own feeling about the Route One is that IT went for a real fast measure to see what a linear cross-town bus with limited stops can do.

        Hoping next move will be to extend those reserved lanes to the whole route, instead of just the segments past stops. And get those red lights turning green on transit’s demand.

        Can testify, though, that ridership isn’t zero. Despite my cautions about its defects, lady associate of mine checked out the One and now uses and defends it fiercely.

        Beats customary eon of surveys and committee meetings. Interesting exercise now would be to take it out as fast as it got built and watch what happens.

        Mark Dublin

    1. ur·ban sprawl
      /ˈərbən sprôl/

      “The uncontrolled expansion of urban areas.”
      -Google Dictionary

      Good thing we’ve got control towers as well as traffic cameras, Sam, because these days aviation is a Hell of a lot worse.

  2. Christopher, Tom, and Brian, that’s about what I’m telling my State senator. View out the window of IT route 612 past the Fort shows new lanes going in as we speak. Trend to be much encouraged.

    Googling “Amphibious Aircraft”, though, it’s not beyond imagination to foresee future machines that are about equally plane and boat. But all in good time, with delivery date Creation’s biggest question mark.

    So in addition to a generous bus-lane network with traffic signal preempt on every IT dashboard- have been told that main opposition is the Lacey city council-my freeway-free vote is ten-minute extension of Sounder past Dupont to Lacey. With buses scheduled to meet trains.

    With those lanes and signal-controls, probably about a twenty minute express bus ride to both the State Capitol and the new Olympia Transit Center. Also: freight spur from the Port could be paved between the rails for a two-minute bus run from the Center to I-5.

    Another thing I’ve discovered, Brian. State legislators’ staff seem to react favorably to polite and knowledgeable in-person office visits. Speaking of which…think IT is planning new bus to Lacey.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I love the idea of extending Sounder — except it is pretty much a commute operation restricted by time slot rentals. I’d instead set as a goal to have a self-powered train line that never touches BNSF-owned tracks so time slots don’t have to be bought.

      A new single track from Lacey or Olympia to Link in Tacoma with appropriate sidings and signals would seem to be enough for an initial 60- or 90-minute operation if not a better 45-minute or 30-minute operation. It also would be able to operate at much higher speeds than our light rail system is.

      I look to Denton County’s A-Train as a real-world example that would seem awesome for this corridor.

      1. ST already owns the track between Nisqually and Tacoma. ST only pays BNSF for Tacoma to Seattle runs. Not sure about the trackage between Lacy and Nisqually. Bypassing congestion in JBLM will be good, but not sure if there is enough demand for transit to Tacoma that doesn’t connect onwards to Seattle … will be interesting if that changes once Link makes it to Tacoma.

      2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-train_(Denton_County)

        Al, the A-train is a beauty. Wicked looking creature. And you’re absolutely right about every passenger railroad’s need not to be forced to share track. Especially with freight.

        However, could be an age thing, but for me “Light Rail” has always meant either “evolved from street rail” or “able to run street rail where there’s an advantage.”


        Heroic story that ought to be a movie. Mode called “interurban”, which in effect meant “rail-car able both to run street traffic, and at the city limits crank up to 60 mph or more through the countryside,” was dying after WWII. Management and labor made a last stand whose example should reverberate.

        Question I’d ask right now: Can anybody think of anyplace in Link’s projected service area where its trainsets can run same track and conditions as either First Hill or Tacoma Link? Or evolve from street running to something faster? Doubt it, but wouldn’t lose the memory.

        When you’re eight, riding a mult-dimensional train like that from the Chicago “loop” to get off and get a “chocolate malt” at a small-town drugstore created more than one lifetime of pro-transit votes.

        Mark Dublin

      3. AJ is exactly right. To take Sounder to Lacey would require a new third track from Nisqually Junction to St. Clair and new cross-overs there. Amtrak would probably appreciate having its own track as far as Centennial Station. I doubt BNSF still owns the track up to Lacey, but if they do, they’d be happy to unload it on Sound Transit.

      4. If ST owns the track, couldn’t ST run additional train sets between Tacoma Dome and Nisqually during the midday and evenings? It would seem that a DMU could just shuttle back and forth.

        Then, a long-term plan to build track from Nisqually to Lacey and maybe into Olympia could be considered. I’d look at an all new track along side or in the median of I5 rather than try to share anything with BNSF.

        Keep in mind that today’s Sounder is limited in a reverse peak from Seattle, and JBLM is a reverse peak. This schedule thing is a big limitation to making the current Sounder line work well. An all-day shuttle from Tacoma Dome after 2030 could conceivably be the best solution to getting all-day service.

      5. My understanding is there is nothing stopping ST from running DMUs from Lakewood to Tacoma dome aside from the operating cost. The issue is lack of ridership, or at least lack of a constituency pushing for that service. Even with Tacoma Dome as a major transit junction, I don’t think the other stops are enough of a trip generator.

  3. I think ferries are an obvious addition to our transit system. It’s a great solution for connections not physically possible over land. That said, it is problematic to operate because of the friction of plowing through water rather than rolling on wheels on land.

    It also has really long boarding and unloading times for passengers so it can’t easily make multiple stops. It also can’t easily be automated and it takes multiple staff to make operations happen.

    I do see an issue when we keep adding public ferry operators. Coordination is hard enough having multiple bus or train operators. I see the eventuality of having a system that has its own funding source and integrated operation.

    Speaking of an integrated operation, access to and from ferry terminals should be like Amtrak Cascades if it had better frequency. Since the distances and eventual frequencies are similar, is some sort of Western Washington Operator of Ferries and Amtrak Rail (WWOOFAAR?) a reasonable organizational approach?

    On the other hand, tying a ferry to local transit systems does probably create better access to and from the various docks. The docks themselves can be income generators through things like confession rental and air rights rental by adjacent buildings to preserve their views. So multiple operators nested with local bus transit agencies may be best.

    If passenger ferries get more popular, ways to both integrate the service and offset the costs seem like the thing to do. Otherwise, its usefulness will be as a costly niche service.

    1. Kitsap transit is running these passenger-only ferries, and feeder bus service is funded under the same levy that funds the ferries themselves, so I think coordination is good on the west side of the sound. In Seattle, there’s really only one node, so it seems straightforward for SDOT, KCM, etc. to improve connections. CCC streetcar and Madison RR are both designed with the ferry terminal as an important transfer point.

      And as Link builds out, I think a 2 or 3 seat ferry ride will be much more compelling for Kitsap commuters heading to UW or East King job centers.

      There are issues elsewhere, such as North Sounder to WSDOT ferries in Mulkiteo and Edmonds, but those are large car ferries so I don’t see why you’d want to take that away from WSDOT’s ferry division – the organization scale needed to run those boats throughout the Sound suggestions a state level agency approach is correct. Other small ferries (Vashon, Anderson, Guemes) are run by the County so any coordination should be occurring within the county bureaucracy, and whether the relevant teams share a department head or not is less important than good process and strong working relationships. So I think WWOOFAAR already exists as WSDOT’s ferry division?

  4. What annoys me about the Kitsap Transit fast ferries is that Kitsap Transit is kinda breaking how ORCA is meant to work with its monthly fare pricing.

    The ORCA pod charges the cost of 36 single direction trips for a monthly pass. The total cost of a round-trip on the fast ferry is $12; common sense dictates that this equates to $6 per trip direction.

    But due to the wonky WSDOT competition pricing system (pay only one direction; this works for WSDOT, but KT is charging both directions anyway and has to take into account WSDOT competition to make its service “premium”), KT is just multiplying its most expensive fare (westbound, $10 for one ride) by 36, giving a monthly pass price of $360. This is above what the IRS allows for tax-free transit passes as well (we, as a region, should aim to have all fares below the IRS limit to encourage employers to pay into transit passes and employees to pre-tax deduct earnings; limit was $265/month in 2019).

    If it were done by common sense, KT should be multiplying $6 by 36 to get a monthly PugetPass price of $216. If people are paying out of pocket for their round-trips – and not buying the monthly pass – this is about what you’d be paying to get to and from work anyway (most months having about 20 work days)! The monthly PugetPass, therefore, is a huge rip-off and not consistent with how the monthly passes were meant to be priced. You have to take nearly 36 westbound fast ferry trips as the pricing now stands to make a monthly pass worth it. Who crosses the Sound that much monthly?

    I suppose one solution for commuters is to just buy the KT-only monthly pass, but are there that many folks who get to Seattle and then don’t use a bus or light rail to get to their final destination?

    1. I had not thought about how monthly passes interact with the pay-both-ways-westbound ferry fare. I ride the ferries rarely so I don’t have a ferry pass. The ultimate purpose of WSDOT’s system is so that people don’t get stuck on the islands without money. WSDOT does it completely on the island routes and for everyone except drivers on the Bainbridge and Bremerton routes. So, if I take the to Seattle I use the same one-way pass each way because it’s two separate trips (or a transfer if I’m just returning a library book). So the ferries should be the same way, and not charge more than they would have charged if they’d charge each way separately. WSDOT doesn’t accept non-ferry passes or transfers, so I can see KT wanting to do that too.

      The premium brand argument doesn’t make much sense. Is KT trying to maximize or minimize passengers? The foot ferries are intrinsically “premium” because they’re faster and fill in gaps in the infrequent auto ferries’ schedule. But that doesn’t mean they have to be a luxury fare. It was the Kitsap voters’ decision to start the service and they’re paying most of it through taxes. If KT wants more passengers it would keep the fare the same as WSDOT or lower; if it wants fewer passengers it would set it higher. There’s little downside to more passengers — that’s what a transit agency should want — and it doesn’t have to worry about too many passengers because there’s a hard upper limit on the boats’ capacity. Taking fewer passengers means it’s fulfilling its transit goals less effectively, and again those are mostly being paid by all Kitsap residents.

  5. Seems like Kitsap Transit is in the business of helping land owners and developers market Kitsap County to Seattle workers and businesses.
    Anything that makes it easier to get to and from Seattle makes houses and land “over here” more expensive.
    Your taxes will reflect this truth.
    We are going to rue this process, this continual expansion into ruin.
    Our county, I moved here in 1991 because Navy, is crowding itself to death already. If you add the insane pressure of Seattle pay-scales to the mix, it gets worse faster.
    They are hacking down trees to make condos and apartments all over the place. Phillips road, for example. Corporate plunder.
    Try and get to Highway 16 from Port Orchard, where they want to add this boat service. Sit in that line to get through the intersection on Bethel and Sedgewick on Saturday morning, cars backed up to Jackson sometimes.
    Standard arguments apply: when is enough, enough? Who is making these decisions, and by what standards?
    Money seems to be the only value. No vision. As if this has never happened anywhere, any-when. As if we don’t know the inevitable end state.
    And always it’s the (remote) developers who profit at everyone else’s expense.
    It is only the challenge of getting to and from Seattle that slows down the decline into Los Angelization, blacktop from bridge to bridge, Taco Bell and Target every quarter mile, more lights, more circles, more delays, worse life.
    Nope. This is wrong.

    1. Don’t people matter at all? Those buildings don’t just make money for developers: they give people places to live. A fast passenger ferry that sails in between the auto ferry schedule gives people more flexibility when they can travel, and makes it easier to do more trips without a car. That benefits longtime residents as well as residents of those new condos.

      The fundamental problem is a half-century of car-dependent development. and now a severe housing shortage that’s affecting not just big cities but entire metropolitan areas and even reaching into the rest of the country. You may not recognize it now because it’s most obvious in King County, but it’s increasing in Pierce County and will eventually be obvious in Kitsap County too. It’s not just new apartment buildings charging more, it’s all properties charging more, even those unaffected by development.

      Seattle (city) lost population in the 1960s and only reached its previous level in the 2000s, so it had a lot of slack which was blunting prices. the 2008 recession halted construction for several years across the country. After it revived, many cities, suburbs, and even small towns reached a tipping point where all their slack was used up, and single-family zoning restrictions prevented enough housing from being built to match the rising population — not just immigrants but babies, people leaving high school, and people getting divorced and starting a new household. Those zoning restrictions are the culprit, and yet that’s exactly what you’d preserve with your “enough is enough”. The existing scheme is fine for existing homeowners — but not for those who aren’t! And it doesn’t work for people who don’t want to or can’t drive. Instead of directing your ire at village condos and their residents, you should be directing it at wealthier commuters buying up semi-rural houses to have an exurban castle — and then trying to prevent multifamily housing in their city.

      There’s a reasonable discussion on what exactly is the best development pattern for Bremerton and Bainbridge Island. Where, how tall, how many clusters? I don’t have much to say on that because I haven’t lived there. But the general principle remains, that even small towns should maximize their walkable areas so that more people can live in them and do errands without a car. And if you have enough of that, it will in turn relieve some pressure on the house lots in the outskirts, if that matters to you. Some people want only a house, others want only a walkable condo/apartment, but others want either one and will take the condo if it’s available.

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