Think about mixing up the ferry system

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.

12 thoughts on “Think about mixing up the ferry system

  1. Interesting to see this conversation happening less than 100 hours after everyone was satisfied that the Kingston to Seattle SoundRunner program was dead and gone forever.

  2. Pete , PO ferries have always been part of the conversation . But notice the use in the blog is using them when their is demand for them , at place and times they are needed and will be used . Not when others hope they will be needed and used . They are using Tax dollars to supplement a system fighting for its life and ability to provide the service it was committed to do . people rely on it , not a system we hope people will one day rely on .

    I voted for you any Pete , but you got this one wrong .

  3. There a fixed number of ferry riders. How does adding the cost to operate another ferry boat save money? Any additional passengers riding the foot ferry can be subtracted from the car ferry.

    Now you’re telling me that we have to repay millions in Rich Passage1 construction costs? And in November the Rich Passage1 is going to become an expensive seaweed collecting buoy?

    I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

  4. Has the ferry system considered being customer-focused and working to provide what the riders want?

    Does the ferry system look at the event schedule in Seattle to see how the riders can be best served?

    In taking part in the Oregon at WSU football game held at Century Link Stadium on Saturday night (7:30 to abt 11:15), I wonder if the ferry system considers how to transport those football patrons home after the game. Under the current schedule, the only ferries to Bremerton leaving Seattle are at 10:30 and 12:50. Would a couple of evening foot ferries have the capacity to bring the customers home?

    What is the plan for folks stranded in Seattle if the last boat to leave Seattle does not have the capacity? Would you warn customers boarding a ferry in the afternoon that there may not be capacity to bring them back to Bremerton in the evening?

    (This is not an idle threat. I have witnesses a ferry leaving people behind in Seattle because there were too many people in line to board a full ferry.)

    The same question(s) would apply to non-sporting events like the SeaFair Parage, concerts, festivals, etc.

  5. There is a different group of passengers who might ride a foot ferry to Seattle.

    Coming from Manchester the Bremerton auto ferry almost never makes sense for me. However, a faster passenger ferry could compete with the total travel time and cost of riding on the Southworth ferry.

  6. I’d say a passenger ferry could replace the mid-day runs, when you have the option of bringing your car back on a later run (if you already have your car there). Using it on the late night runs, not so much.

  7. why cant they make the Bainbridge Ferry also stop at Bremerton during the slow and empty afternoon runs? It may add about 30 min to the route, but if hardly anyone is on those boats, whats 30 min to save millions? then revert back to regular schedule for high capacity hours.

  8. The Rich Passage I cost about $5 million to build and when they are put into production could cost as little as $3 million each. Compared to the planned cost of $277 million to build two new 144 car ferries. A late night Passenger Only ferry makes a ton of sense. If you get stuck in Seattle late at night with your car you can drive around, there’s no traffic late at night. But if you are stuck without your car, you might have to sleep on a park bench. That happened to a friend of mine back in the day.

    The biggest concern is whether or not public employee unions are willing to be more flexible by allowing their workers to work flex shifts rather than requiring they be paid to sit around when a boat is not running.

  9. I agree with fletcher’s direction. A Manchester or Southworth foot ferry going directly into seattle (or even a triangle route via Vashon) could make a lot of sense. Rich Passage could easily be re-purposed for this task. South Kitsap commuters are forced to take their cars through either Bremmerton, West Seattle, or Tacoma at which point it’s easier drive-on rather than pay for parking and bus it into town. A South Kitsap foot route could clear up a decent amount of traffic through all of these areas and Downtown, make a lot of South Kitsapians lives easier, and potentially attract new residents and weekenders to the area.

  10. I think the Rich Passage ferry and versions thereof will be the answer. A fleet of these for the cost of only one car ferry, can serve not only Bremerton, but Southworth, PO, even BI. As Robin said, if you’re stuck in Seattle w/your car you can drive around.

  11. The state needs to maintain a highway system between Bremerton and Seattle. Cutting these routes creats too much of a closed highway on a system that already has a 85% fare recovery pricing system. Ferry users do pay state tax on gas plus most of the operational costs of the boats. Users of state roads pay gas tax, few pay tolls for maintenance, including the highway patrol budget. This is a good idea, keep the hwy open with foot ferries, run more than one if necessary.

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