Des Moines betting on fast ferry service to attract visitors

Aug 10, 2022, 9:21 AM
Photo courtesy of the City of Des Moines...
Photo courtesy of the City of Des Moines

What’s old is new again for Puget Sound transportation. Decades after turning our back on the water, one city is using it for congestion relief and a development spark.

Looking out at Puget Sound from the Des Moines marina, you see the value of the vast opportunity in front of you, especially after grinding through the construction and congestion on Interstate 5.

Des Moines is the first city to start up its own passenger-only ferry service. It’s only a two-month pilot project, but the Des Moines city manager, Michael Matthias, said it’s a creative way to use our region’s resources.

“It’s the opportunity to maximize what’s right in front of us and take advantage of it and add value to it,” Mattias said.

The service launches August 10 with four roundtrips a day to Seattle’s Bell Harbor Marina.  A reliable 40-minute trip on the water to downtown Seattle, versus a fluctuating travel time on I-5 that also comes with a parking fee. Does that sound like something you would be interested in?

Matthias said the city did a demand study and he said it showed enough of an interest to move forward.

“Now maybe it makes sense to do a pilot,” he said. “Let’s take a look at this and see how effective it is and what the draw is regionally and locally for that service.”

And after two months, Matthias and the city will have their answer.

But Matthias believes this can be much more than a commuter option. The ferry service is part of a grand redevelopment of the marina, and he envisions a diverse group of people using the service.

“It could be locals going up to Seattle. It could be people coming from the airport,” he said. “We get a lot of people from the airport, pass-throughs, that have a few hours between flights. They’ll come down to the marina. People can also get to the airport using the ferry service. We’re just going to look at all the different aspects and find out where the sweet spot is and try and build on that.”

Imagine ending your trip to Seattle with lunch on the waterfront and then catching a ferry to Des Moines and a shuttle to the airport. That’s the kind of service Matthias believes will attract people.

More from Chris Sullivan: What to do with West Seattle’s Fauntleroy ferry terminal?

Which leads me back to the larger question. Why did we turn our backs on this resource? Longtime maritime transit advocate Peter Phillips explained.

“Initially automobiles were faster, cheaper and more convenient, and that’s not necessarily the case anymore,” Phillips said. “We very constricted, land side, on where we can build new roads. Automobiles and congestion are hard to overcome, and the technology on the fast ferry side has made it inexpensive, sustainable, environmentally-friendly, and fast. It’s a quality of life issue.”

Des Moines is chartering a 62 person fast ferry from Puget Sound Express for the two month pilot project. The first week will be free, but it will cost $10 a trip after that. Children 13 and under will be free though.

Matthis said he’ll look at the results and then decide what’s next.  Des Moines is spending between $500-600,000 to find out if this is a viable transportation option for the city.



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Des Moines betting on fast ferry service to attract visitors