Ferries often faster, cheaper, always cooler than driving

Drive or sail?
Washington State Ferries released a report this month comparing the time, cost and greenhouse gas emissions of commuting on a ferry versus driving around. Boats, not surprisingly, won in every case.
Some of the scenarios aren’t realistic, though, like Bainbridge Island to Seattle and Hansville to Everett. You’d have to be out of your mind to drive around via the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from those places — and probably even Poulsbo, which was in the report. Yet the biggest tossup — South Kitsap are to Seattle — isn’t examined.
Most Kitsap folks have performed similar calculations, and they can fine-tune them to their own sites and gas mileage.
Here’s one I’ve done. Say I want to go to a Mariners game. Should I drive around from my Gig Harbor home or take the Bremerton ferry?
It takes 63 minutes to drive the 45.9 miles to Safeco Field on a good day, according to Google Maps, but when was the last good day? It takes 32 minutes to drive to Bremerton and 60 minutes for the ferry to cross, for a total of 92 minutes. So it’s about a half-hour faster to drive around, though traffic slowdowns could eat up a chunk of that.
What about cost? My 1996 Honda Accord, at 25 miles per gallon, can get to the ballpark on 1.8 gallons. At $4 per gallon, the cost is $7.20, $14.40 for the round trip. I generally park way south where it’s free, and walk.
Gas to get the 48.2 miles to and from Bremerton would run $8. Full fare to walk on to the ferry is $7.70 for the round trip. I’ll park at my office. Total cost: $15.70.
I’d save $1.30 and a half-hour by driving around, an hour if you count the return trip.
Easy decision? Not for me. Most times I’ll go against the numbers and take the ferry.
Driving Interstate 5 is terrorizing; Highway 16 a stroll. And traveling by ferry is cool. It’s surreal to get on at little Bremerton and walk into the big city. The No. 1 determining factor is whether there’ll be a boat when I need it, which isn’t always the case.
Since WSF didn’t do it, let’s take a look at South Kitsap. To make it easy, say the commuter lives within walking distance of the Southworth ferry dock and works downtown.
The round-trip drive across the Narrows would be 150 miles, take nearly three hours, not counting traffic slowdowns, and suck up $24 in gas. Taking the ferry to Fauntleroy and driving downtown would cost $2.84 for gas and $16.42 for a ticket for a total of $19.26. It would take about two hours of travel time.
This would be no-brainer, provided there’s room on the boat, because taking it would save the commuter about $5 and an hour a day.
Calculations can get complicated, because Southworth ferry riders can drive or walk, go downtown or down south, catch the passenger-only ferry on Vashon or the Metro bus in West Seattle, or use Kitsap Transit’s park-and ride lots and buses.
Mitchell Brown, an Olympic High grad now attending the University of Washington, occasionally rides the ferry home to visit. He says it’s faster, cheaper, more convenient, and he can work during the crossing.
Mark Moshay of Bremerton catches the ferry in Bremerton and drives to his job in Tukwila as a contract administrator. When the day is done, he returns home via the Narrows Bridge, which doesn’t collect tolls in that direction. It costs him about $12 a day for gas and $9 for the ferry ticket. The trip to work takes about 90 minutes. Coming back varies from an hour to two hours, depending on traffic.
“I would have to agree that for most folks it’s faster, cheaper and less polluting,” he said of riding the ferry. “For me it’s not necessarily faster or cheaper, but I definitely use less gas going by ferry. But there’s one more really important factor. I challenge anyone, anywhere to tell me they have a more beautiful morning commute than I do.”
Washington State Ferries compared six commutes. Those not mentioned earlier are Bremerton to Seattle, Port Townsend to Seattle and Langley to the Everett Boeing plant. To see the results, visit http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/B3B58BAB-C98A-4A74-820B-1B659EDC9066/0/Drive_Or_Sail_Folio_091212.pdf.

7 thoughts on “Ferries often faster, cheaper, always cooler than driving

  1. Well if one takes the foot ferry, it’s 50/50 that it may be working. For the larger ferry, is it
    fog, mechanical delay, or some other gremlin that keeps the big boats from making departures on time?

    But I’m convinced that one of the navigation buoys should be fitted with a red light/traffic camera. Because as we ALL know, those things save lives…..

  2. Unfortunately, it seems that their isn’t a single person working for the management of Washington State Ferries who is smarter than the dumbest person in Kitsap County, aka Ducttapeo1. Sorry if this comment seems inappropriate, but this report is pathetic and we all had to pay for it.

  3. I bike accross on the ferry. First one on first one off and the pick of seats during heavy Seahawks game traffic.

  4. Does the WSDOT and the Legislative Transportation folks even read this study? Every year we hear of threatened cuts to to pretty much every run which would put more pressure roads & highways with more cars & commerce trucks. Neither the highway system (gas taxes) nor the ferry system (tolls,marketing) make enough money to fully fund what is needed. You can not cut the highway budget so why not create a new lottery with a REQUIREMENT that all net proceeds go to the ferry system?

  5. “Unfortunately, it seems that their isn’t a single person working for the management of Washington State Ferries who is smarter than the dumbest person in Kitsap County, aka Ducttapeo1. Sorry if this comment seems inappropriate, but this report is pathetic and we all had to pay for it.”

    Main problem with your argument is that you’re just pointing out the obvious.

    With the red light cameras comment and this report, my jab was at this is another example of government waste, as government attempts to be relevant in transportation.

    Red light cameras and this study have one thing in common, job welfare. There are endless “studies” that show red light cameras save lives, and equally, there are studies (like this one) that claim ferries are the most efficient use of time and money.

    Neither enterprise really makes money, as it costs more money, because of the job welfare requirement.

    But i’m convinced after several years of use, it’s a management problem and salary problem.

    It should be a performance based salary system, with more attention being placed on loading/offloading and mechanical performance. Those are the people reallyworking. Certainly not management.

    Mr. Moseley, by his size, looks like a person leading a very sedentary lifestyle. I can’t see how he relates to the working people, as it’s obvious he doesn’t walk much and couldn’t walk on a ferry if his life depended on it. And since a high percentage of users are walkers and bikers, he’s obviously out of touch.

    The day management is comprised of people that actually are physically capable of using the ferries, that’s when service and performance will actually matter.

    It’s one thing to complain about another study, or comment. You didn’t even bother to address why. Go get an ice crem and reward yourself for pointing out the obvious, and nothing more.

  6. I don’t quite buy your numbers. I live in Manchester and choose to take the ferry or drive around once or twice a week. Most often depending on whether the ferry schedule is compatible with when I need to travel Let’s say I’m going from Manchester to Westlake Center in my compact car which gets about 30 miles/gal and gets the under 14′ discount.

    On the ferry it’s only 15 miles driving each way. A round trip by ferry is $4 gas + $10.25 each way for a total of $25. I leave my house 20 minutes ahead of a sailing, 40 minute crossing, and a 20 minute drive. If I plan well both ways it’s 160 minutes total travel time.

    A round trip by road is 130 miles at 30 miles/gallon for $18 gas plus a $4 toll. Google estimates almost the same 83 minutes drive time. 163 minutes total travel time. And, yes, that’s accurate. I gave myself 100 minutes this morning and made it with plenty of time to find parking. Sure, there’s traffic, but there’s traffic on the West Seattle Bridge sometimes as well.

    Since I can plan my departure accurately and the drive to the ferry is a well known quantity with no traffic I will often ride the ferry to Seattle and then drive around on the way back home. Say $12.25 over and $9 back for a total of $21.25 and I avoid the toll altogether.

    Though sometimes I do what I did today, drive around because the ferry departure is incompatible with when I need to be in Seattle, then ride the ferry home because I’m tired.

    I’d really like to be taking the bus more often. 5 miles to Southworth, $5 parking, catch the 54 to Seattle for $2.50. And then the ferry coming back is $6. Travel time to Seattle is about 20 minutes to the ferry, 40 minute crossing, 15 minute wait for the bus, 30 minutes to Seattle. Maybe 205 minutes round trip and a total cost of $2 gas, $5 parking, $5 bus, and $6 ferry for $18. The advantage being I can read the whole way rather than driving. I think if the parking fee was a bit less then more people would be attracted by that option.

  7. Remember also that fuel is only a portion of the equation. Depreciation and insurance (not to mention time and environmental impact) should also be included. The GSA’s going rate for mileage compensation is $0.555 per mile. Good enough for this conversation. At that rate your Safeco Field example is $25.47 each way ($50.95 RT). You can value your free time as you like. For cost/benefit analysis I multiply my gross hourly income by 5 but I really value my free time.

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