Kitsap Transit's Fast Ferries
Most Prominent Transportation Initiatives in Puget Sound
By William Hillis
Broker & Research Editor, Realogics Sotheby's International Realty
"What the fast ferries really deliver is not capacity for new trips, but flexibility for commuters."
The Kitsap Peninsula and Bainbridge Island have been weekend getaways for Puget Sound residents since the days of the Mosquito Fleet more than a century ago. Today, as the Interstate 5 corridor fills up and traffic slows to a crawl, Kitsap County’s allure is rising as a bedroom community for those with sufficiently flexible work schedules, and even as an exurban business location or employment center.
The legacy Washington State Ferries have met these needs well enough into the 21st century, but demand is greater than ever and investment in vessels and service has been constrained by WSF capital and operating budgets. In their long-range plan dated June 2009, WSF forecast ridership demand to rise 37 percent by 2030. Enter Kitsap Transit’s own Fast Ferries, which are funded by a 0.3-percent sales tax within Kitsap Transit’s district, and ultimately $50 million in bonds.
Expectations should be measured based on the respective capacities of these ferry lines. For example, the WSF Bremerton-Seattle ferry run is now served by the MV Chimacum, with a capacity of 1,500 passengers and 144 vehicles, at a speed of 17 knots. In the summer of 2017, Chimacum replaced the MV Sealth, which had accommodated 1,200 passengers and 90 vehicles. The Sealth was in service during 2016, when the Bremerton route conveyed 2.1 million foot passengers.
In comparison, the passenger-only vessel on the Bremerton run of Kitsap Fast Ferries is the Rich Passage 1, a “hydrofoil-assisted” catamaran with a sealed cabin snugly accommodating 118 walk-on passengers. Although tourists may prefer the spacious observation decks aboard the Washington State ferries, the Rich Passage 1 is certainly fast, making round-trips to Seattle and back within 60 to 90 minutes at a speed of 37 knots, compared to an hour for just one leg of this trip by the Chimacum. Yet even at this rate, the Phase Two “Expanded Service” ridership projections on the Bremerton route are for 334,000 trips annually, about one for every eight passenger-trips possible for the Chimacum.
What the fast ferries really deliver is not capacity for new trips, but flexibility for commuters who cannot adjust their schedules to those of the WSF. This flexibility will allow some people to relocate to Kitsap County who might otherwise resign themselves to I-5 gridlock.
Impact: More frequent sailings by both the Washington State Ferries and Kitsap Fast Ferries will be added to meet the commuting demand anticipated by 2030. Real estate development in Kitsap County will also rise to meet that demand, but will not exceed it.