The Seattle Times reports the retiring of four badly-deteriorated, 1927-vintage Steel Electric Class car ferries by Washington State Ferries has prompted not only a shifting of state ferry project funds to pay for three replacement vessels, but also temporary passenger-only ferry service between Seattle and Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. More details on the new foot ferry route <a href="from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Port Townsend, a top Northwest tourist destination known for its Victorian architecture, arts community, walkable shopping district, maritime history and Olympic Peninsula access, has been hit hard since car ferry service from Keystone on Whidbey Island was cancelled in late November. By January, the state aims to have a temporary replacement car ferry (from Pierce County) in place, and a new one running in 14 months. But in the near term, a passenger-only ferry the state had been about to sell on E-Bay, the MV Snohomish, began running from Seattle to Port Townsend Thursday, December 13. (Map and brief synopsis, both by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, right).
That’s an attractive run to a great destination, though perhaps more alluring – weather-wise – during the spring, summer and fall than winter. It’s the kind of route that a private operator, as opposed to the state, might consider running……with a smaller, more fuel- and cost-efficient boat than the 350-seat MV Snohomish.
Tim Caldwell, General Manager of the Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce, says the organization sees passenger-only ferries and a more robust regional intermodal transit system as key to the future for their region, boosting tourism and, long-term, helping preserve the natural wonders of the Olympic Peninisula. In an e-mail interview, Caldwell tells Cascadia Prospectus:
The Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce has sponsored several PT-Seattle passenger-only ferry excursions. Its most recent was during the August, 2003 Hood Canal Bridge closure. During this three-day closure, the Chamber, in cooperation with Aqua Express, Jefferson Transit, the City of Port Townsend, and Puget Sound Energy, provided a Friday through Sunday service that proved a great success. As one visitor remarked, “it was like Christmas in August.”
Given the current situation regarding the loss of auto ferry service to Port Townsend, a high speed passenger-only ferry link between Seattle and Port Townsend is an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of alternative transportation. The 90-minute,$6.70 round trip, with a free Jefferson Transit day pass for Port Townsend-bound passengers, is an excellent example of seamless transportation.
Admittedly, the time of year, and the short notice for promoting the service makes it difficult to realize the full potential of the service, but we believe every demonstration run creates new converts to the idea of expanding the passenger-only ferry network throughout the Puget Sound region.
Both the City of Port Townsend and Fort Worden State Park are formulating long range strategic plans that will provide amenities and marketing intended to draw greater attention to the community. The transportation element of the planning will focus on systems and services which will allow travelers to visit without their vehicles. High speed passenger-only ferry service with complementary ground transportation are essential elements of these plans.
The Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce strongly believes the compelling attraction of the natural wonders of the Olympic Peninsula will be better preserved by focusing on alternative transportation services that minimize the impact on the environment. We contend passenger-only ferry service is key to the solution.
The state ferry system was planning to sell the Snohomish and one other similarly-sized passenger-only ferry because it had decided to get out of the passenger-only ferry business. That decision isn’t likely to change, long term, and in the meantime, all kinds of indications hint that passenger-only ferries, once integral transportation here during the old “Mosquito Fleet” days, might make a come-back.
The Puget Sound Regional Council, an important planning – but not decision-making – body, continues its study into how best to coordinate and govern passenger-only ferry service regionally. A consultant memo on possible regional foot ferry governance structures was presented at a meeting of the study’s advisory committee this week. It noted one feasible option would be putting passenger ferry route planning and financing under a larger regional transportation super-agency for central Puget Sound. (Snohomish, King, Pierce and perhaps Kitsap County could be included; and the same mutli-county approach to transportation decision-making and funding could be replicated elsewhere in the state and the I-5 corridor in particular). On p. 4 of the report linked directly above, Becca Aue of Nelson Nygaard writes to PSRC staff:
For some time the Puget Sound region, as well as the state Legislature, has been discussing the idea of regional transportation governance. In its 2006 Final Report to Governor Gregoire, the Regional Transportation Commission recommended that the Washington State Legislature create a 15-member Puget Sound Regional Transportation Commission (PSRTC) with authority and responsibility for planning, prioritizing and funding all modes of regional transportation for the four-county
area. Although no legislative action has been taken to implement this recommendation, the idea is still alive and will likely receive further debate. Should the PSRTC be created, this body could oversee and develop POF service for “regionally-significant” routes (which would need to be defined), or possibly all POF services within the region.
A regional transportation super-agency continues to draw public support from influential backers.
Folding in oversight of passenger-only ferries would make a lot of sense if a regional transportation decision-making body – to plan, prioritize and fund road and transit projects, with voter approval – can actually gain approval from state legislators. A bill passed the State Senate last year but died in the House, under pressure from varied interests concerned it would undermine passage of the now-defeated roads-and-transit ballot measure Proposition 1 in November.
One way to ehance regional coordination and boost funding prospects for passenger-only ferries on Puget Sound (and Lake Washington) would be the adoption of a voluntary interlocal agreement among ports, cities, tribes, private foot ferry operators, labor and Washington State Ferries. The aim would be to pool resources, coordinate routes, and embrace joint public and private-sector cooperation. Cascadia Center recently presented at a ferry system summit in Bremerton some principles upon which such an agreement could be based. The finance piece is key, of course. Cascadia’s memorandum brief notes:
Funding options to be explored should include the federal ferry discretionary fund; capital funds from ports in the region; hotel/motel taxes; reasonable government subsidies; and concessions at redeveloped ferry gateways.
As the regional foot ferries initiative continues to develop, keep your eye on the Port of Kingston. Kingston is a north Kitsap County community with an unserved market of locals, extending out in a radius to larger towns such as Port Townsend, and Port Angeles on the Oylmpic Peninsula, who need and want direct passenger-ferry access to Seattle from a location more convenient than the jammed car ferry operation further south at Winslow, where vehicle-free riders must contend with spotty transit connections from north Kitsap, or pricey parking. The Port has been bolstered by an imminent $3.5 million federal start-up grant for the route. It’s part of a larger, $139 million federal Urban Partnerships congestion-fighting grant to the region which depends on state approval of tolls on SR 520.
The port is also seeking another $900,000 from a special state ferry fund, and plans to initiate foot ferry service from Kingston to Seattle on an 80- to 100-seat boat, achieving 100 percent fare-box recovery, and profitability, by year four of operation.
One-way travel time would be 35 minutes, and fares $12 with a qaurterly pass, $13.50 with a ticket book, and $15 for walk-ons. There’d be one more boat for back-up. The Port would own and operate the run but could still sub-contract.
Bearing in mind an earlier private sector attempt which failed due to excess seating capacity, high fuel costs and operating expenses, a lean operation is key. That was the message to the PSRC study advisory committee this week from Port of Kingston Director Mike Bookey, a self-described “refugee” from Eastside high-tech start-up companies.
As several members of the study advisory committee noted, a lot is riding on the success of the Kingston-Seattle foot ferry route.
If the concept is proved, the planned Kingston-Seattle foot ferry could serve as one model for the region, providing waterborne transport from a convenient multi-county gathering point across Puget Sound to Seattle. Another model is to connect higher-density cities on the eastern (Seattle) side of the Sound with each other. Fast Tacoma-Seattle and Everett- Seattle foot ferries could do a lot to relieve I-5 congestion. Finally, there’s the tourism-based model, already illustrated by Victoria Clipper’s Seattle-Victoria, B.C. passenger-only service, and now, also by the temporary Seattle-Port Townsend run.
So until January 6th, holiday season atmo in Port Townsend is an easy, car-free day-trip away. So why not hop on the Seattle-Port Townsend passenger-only ferry, sit back, and enjoy the ride? Make sure you find lovely Chetzemoka Park in Port Townsend, and the pathway there down to the beach. More information on the temporary passenger-only ferry to Port Townsend here and here, including the schedule.
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