LOCAL NEWS

More and more people using foot ferries for Seattle commute

Sep 24, 2019, 10:40 AM
bremerton foot ferry, passenger ferry...
(Kitsap Transit)
(Kitsap Transit)

If you had to choose the better commute, sitting in stop-and-go traffic or a scenic boat ride, most would probably pick the latter. It seems that commuters are increasingly making that choice as foot ferry service in-and-out of Seattle continues to gain popularity.

Remembering the Infamous Kitsap Ferry Riot of 1987

Washington’s ferry system is experiencing a rising trend in riders. A total of 12.1 million people used Washington’s ferries in the first six months of 2019. But in looking at the numbers, the Puget Sound Regional Council notes that passenger-only service, aka foot ferries, are taking on a significant share. Without cars, the ferries travel much faster across the water.

There were about 430,000 passenger ferry riders in the first six months of 2014 — between King County Metro’s water taxi in Seattle and service provided by Kitsap Transit on the other side of the Sound. By 2018, that number shot up to 707,000 riders. This rise is partly due to increased service — there are more ferries and scheduled rides to take on more people.

But in the first six months of 2019, foot ferry service was already the highest levels ever recorded at 876,000 riders. CAPTION

Again, increased foot ferry service can take some of the credit for the increased ridership. But as Kitsap Transit is finding out, demand is also playing a considerable factor.

“When we turn on the reservations’ availability for a month, within five to 10 minutes, all of the available seats for the entire month have been booked,” Kitsap Transit Executive Director John Clauson told KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan.

Starting this week, Kitsap Transit began two-boat service, adding four additional sailings to the Seattle-Bremerton run. It’s only a four-week test run (they have to prove the increased ferry traffic won’t damage the shoreline). If successful, increased passenger ferry runs between Bremerton and Seattle could begin before summer 2020.

Another factor could be the growth in Kitsap County, which is feeding off the growth in Seattle. In 2016, Bremerton began a marketing campaign to entice Seattle workers to move across Puget Sound. They could potentially use the ferry to commute and enjoy cheaper rent. Though, as the Seattle side has discovered, newcomers can drive up rents and draw down on the housing supply. By 2018, a new mayor of Bremerton halted all marketing campaigns as the city crossed its fingers and hoped commuters would forget about them.

“I don’t want to speak for everybody, but a lot of folks who are having their rents increased quite a bit or are being forced out, are looking at it as a wave of Seattleites coming in and doing this,” Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler said in May 2018.

“The people moving here … are also concerned about the problems with this,” he said. “Let’s face it, they left Seattle because they couldn’t afford rents anymore. Or they had no chance at all, ever, of home ownership. They know what it’s like. They were just there … can’t say it’s a black and white that everybody doesn’t want people from Seattle here. That’s not the case. It’s a mixture of emotions.”

But as Mayor Wheeler also noted at the time, there was no slowing it down — people were moving to Bremerton either way. And it appears many of those people have made good use of the passenger ferry service to Seattle.

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More and more people using foot ferries for Seattle commute