When I say Bremerton and you mark Bainbridge

This boat is bound for Bremerton, even if your receipt says otherwise.
This boat is bound for Bremerton, even if your receipt says otherwise.

You’ve heard this one before. On my way back from Seattle a few weeks ago, the attendant that sold me my ferry ticket to board the Bremerton boat marked me down as heading to Bainbridge.

I politely protested. He said it didn’t matter. I insisted that, as a reporter, I had been told repeatedly by ferry officials that it did matter. He called his boss. His boss told him it didn’t matter.

My actual receipt.

I left with my receipt and plenty of questions for ferries officials. Once again, a Bremerton rider had been counted as heading to Bainbridge, as I’d heard many times before. Only this time, I witnessed it with my own eyes.

I consulted Ian Sterling, a ferries spokesman, about my receipt. Had something changed, in light of the more careful counts crews are doing to ensure they’re following Coast Guard capacity requirements?

No, Sterling said. The attendants should be marking them down correctly. And his supervisor should’ve voided the sale and started the process again. Sterling said the staff would be getting a “written reminder” to ensure accuracy.

“This is something that comes up from time to time,” Sterling said.

Why it’s important: The ferry system uses those ridership statistics for planning its route capacity. So it is a big deal, and if you find yourself in a similar situation, please let me know.

In my own case, the attendant vowed to count the next two motorists as going to Bremerton regardless, as a consolation prize.

I’m puzzled about why this keeps happening. I can only chalk it up to a disconnect between those managing the ferries and the people selling the tickets. It only applies when you drive your vehicle on the vessel in Seattle; walk-on passengers buy a specific ticket.

But has it affected the statistics? Hard to say.

The Bainbridge route indeed has higher ridership. Bainbridge’s carried 6.3 million riders in 2015; Bremerton’s carried 2.7 million. But of those, 25 percent drove on the ferry in Bremerton, compared with 30 percent on Bainbridge in 2015. This might just be Bremerton’s typically-high walk-on passenger counts but if attendants continue to count Bremerton’s vehicles as Bainbridge’s, it stands to reason it will have an effect.   

But for some Bremerton ferry riders, getting the wrong receipt is a symptom of a bigger issue: That their route is treated differently. Bainbridge has vessels built in the 1990s; Bremerton’s are late-60s era models. Bainbridge has more sailings. One commuter I talked to even feels the terminal in Seattle is nicer on the Bainbridge side. And last week, when the Kaleetan ferry experienced steering issues, passengers to Bremerton were ultimately taken to Bainbridge, where a bus waited to take them home. Generally, when a Bainbridge vessel goes out of service, it is quickly replaced, setting off a domino effect that impacts the Bremerton run.

Even the credit card system at Colman Dock doesn’t acknowledge Bremerton. Regardless of the destination the attendant marks you down for, your credit card statement will say “WSFERRIES-BAINBRIDGE,” as the line item no matter what.

Here comes Chimacum.

I asked Sterling if he hears such complaints about favoritism.

We hear from most routes from time to time that they believe other routes get more attention,” he told me.

The San Juans routes, for instance, feel Seattle “get more than they do,” he said.

“I can tell you that WSF is focused on the system as a whole,” Sterling said. “Bremerton is one of our core central sound routes.”

He closed with one final point: Guess who’s getting a brand new $123 million ferry next spring?


But when it comes to receipts, it appears the only way to ensure your trip counts to its proper destination is to keep a close eye on it and contact the ferry system if you’re Bainbridged* by mistake. I’ll be happy to help, too.

*Not a real word.

7 thoughts on “When I say Bremerton and you mark Bainbridge

  1. I recently purchased a ticket to Bremerton, I thought, and later found out it was a ticket to Bainbridge Island. I am not a “conspiracy theroyist” but I cannot understand why ticket sellers issue the wrong ticket. WSDOT is quick to point out that the Bremerton ferry run is a loser and so it does matter when revenue is directed to their favorite ferry run.

  2. I understand the receipt is incorrect, but what did the actual ticket say? Also when you scan it you are scanning it on the machines that are boarding the Bremerton ferry not the Bainbridge one, I guess if they use the numbers the scans give them then it wouldn’t matter much for planning, but still they should provide the proper receipt. Might be especially annoying for people that might be filling it as work expenses.

    1. Ana,

      You don’t actually get a “ticket” when you travel to Bremerton via a vehicle. Just a receipt. You get a ticket when you walk on the ferry through the terminal above.


  3. I have had a similar circumstance occur to me when I thought to check.
    For an organization like WSF, that has had a significant amount of negative publicity over the years, you would think that public trust would be something they would be concerned about building. The very fact that this occurs on a routine basis, and no correlation is made between destination tickets sold and actual walk on headcounts in their reporting metrics, just demonstrates the value of what they are reporting……worth nothing.
    Makes you wonder what other items are skewed by a lack of oversight.

    BTW, I have been in the local area since 1988 and cannot recall one time where Bremerton received a new vehicle ferry. In that same time, I have seen the Bainbridge run receive a number of new boats on their initial delivery, all based on metrics that were proof of increased ridership.

    Hmmmm, seems we have come full circle on ridership and what it means for service.

  4. Josh, Dealing with the WSF’s is like political debates. The game is rigged before you start and they have no intention of fixing the system.

  5. I commuted for close to 1p years in the 80’s. This was common knowledge amongst the commuters. The wanted people who make higher wages to move to Bainbridge so if they jacked up the stats they could keep up the other boat first to make it more attractive to live there. I believe that is what Bremerton has been doing with our downtown to bring Seattle people and travelers here. We most definitely need to get that changed and keep on top of it. Your the best!

  6. I now purchase round trip tickets when I use my vehicle from Bremerton, that way the tickets always says Bremerton and my return ticket from the Bremerton terminal.

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