Washington State Ferry staff chief Mark Nitchman and state rep
Larry Seaquist batted around the prospect last week of combining
car ferries and passenger-only ferries in a cost-cutting move.
The behind-the-scenes brainstorming played out over the Internet,
and was shared with members of the Ferry Community Partnership and
Inlandboatman’s Union. It likely arose from a proposed WSF
operating budget announced last week that would cut service,
including a midday and two late-night round trips from the
Bremerton route. The topic had been broached earlier as a strategy
to continue running the Kitsap Transit wake research ferry Rich
Passage 1. The service to Seattle, which is part of the research,
will end Nov. 2. Kitsap Transit must then find a way to use the
boat (it doesn’t have the money), transfer it to another agency or
pay back the federal government for the cost of building it. Now,
coincidentally, there could be holes in the state’s
Nitchman isn’t necessarily proposing that WSF use passenger-only
ferries, and never mentioned Kitsap Transit, just that the state
look at whether they can complement car ferries and save the system
In the past, and even now with the Rich Passage 1, passenger
ferries have competed with car ferries. WSF competed against itself
when it ran two 350-seat fast ferries and two car ferries on the
Bremerton route. Lost tax revenue and a lost lawsuit put an end to
that. As cool as it was for Bremerton riders, it made no sense
financially. Four ferries on a long route had to set some kind of
operating cost record.
There are two car ferries on the Bremerton route now, generally the
Kaleetan (144 cars) and Kitsap (124 cars). It gets a high
percentage of foot traffic because it Seattle is at the other end.
Outside of possibly the morning and evening commutes, it doesn’t
need so many car spaces.
Suppose a passenger ferry replaced a car ferry during midday and
possibly after the evening commute. Needed crew could switch to the
smaller boat while the others stay and maintain the car ferry. How
would that pencil out? Labor would be the same, but there should be
a fuel savings.
As Nitchman says, you can buy a passenger ferry for about the cost
of painting a car ferry, and probably get the feds to put up 90
percent of it, provided its advertised nationally.
Another scenario could be switching the 144-car Kaleetan with a
second 124-car boat. Would the fuel savings cover the addition of a
With car ferries only getting more expensive, maybe a mixed,
complementary system is something to look into.
Everything is contingent, of course, on finding a passenger
ferry that works in Rich Passage, which we won’t know for