Most locals have a general idea when they can’t drive down to
the ferry and get right on. Like practically anytime Sunday from
Kingston. Or 4:20 p.m. weekdays from Seattle to Bremerton. Or
before 7 a.m. weekdays from Southworth to West Seattle.
But if you’re thinking of traveling during a less predictable time, or just dropped in from Tulsa and never seen a boat before, Washington State Ferries has a tool for you. On Tuesday it introduced color-coded schedules that show the least and most crowded sailings based on last year’s data. Green means boats generally aren’t full. Yellows could overload by departure time. And red shows that you’re probably not going to fit on that sailing and possibly the next one.
Why didn’t somebody think of that before? It works a lot better on the WSF website than on the black-and-white pages I printed out. You can find them at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries. You’ll see “Schedules” in the right column. Pick a particular route. Select “Typical Vehicle Traffic Conditions” on the right side to bring up the color-coded version.
They’re kind of neat to play around with. If you check out the Bainbridge schedule, for example, you’ll see that you better get there at 4:45 a.m. for the morning commute or expect to wait. It doesn’t clear out until after noon. Fortunately, there’s not much time between sailings. I’ve heard that riders arrive for the departure before the one they want to catch.
Kingston is the most backed-up route on Sundays, but it’s not alone, according to these schedules. Of Kingston’s 22 Sunday sailings, 17 are red. Take one of the first three boats in the morning, the last one at night or wait.
Suppose you had a choice of which route to take on Sunday night. Is there a better option than Kingston? Only relatively. Leaving Bainbridge, 12 of 22 boats are red. Nine of 11 from Bremerton. And even 17 of 22 from Southworth. I always figured it got lighter as you worked your way south, but this doesn’t bear that out.
There are some oddball results. Why is the busiest weekday sailing out of Kingston at 8:40 a.m., after the commute, for example? Why would the 4:45 p.m. boat out of Bainbridge be full on just one weekday — Thursday? It looks like a lot of people are working four-day weeks because Friday morning commutes are lighter than the other days.
Now if you have to be somewhere at a particular time, like work, this tool isn’t going to help you much. But if you’re flexible, it could save you some waiting in line.