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 Seattle-Bremerton schedule.
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 money.
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 passenger ferry?
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 awhile.