Testimony In Support Of King County Passenger-Only Ferry District

Written Testimony To King County Council On Draft Operational Plan For King County Passenger-Only Ferry District, from Cascadia Center For Regional Development, Seattle.

Contact: Matt Rosenberg, Senior Fellow, Nov. 13, 2007. (Cascadia also provided in-person testimony at a Nov. 8th public hearing).


This testimony is in response to the King County Ferry District’s draft operational plan published Nov. 7, 2007, for a passenger-only ferry network in King County.

Cascadia Center applauds the King County Executive and Council for creating the King County Ferry District, and for developing a draft operating plan for a passenger-only ferry network in King County on Puget Sound and Lake Washington. The state’s car ferry system will remain an important part of our regional transportation system. But as the need grows to control highway and road congestion in the face of projected 52 percent population growth in central Puget Sound by 2040, it will become even more important to facilitate expanded passenger vessel travel options on Puget Sound and Lake Washington. Passenger-only ferries once played a significant role in daily transportation in our region, during the age of the Mosquito Fleet. It is time for a rebirth of the Mosquito Fleet, and King County’s emerging commitment to supporting passenger-only ferry routes within its jurisdiction is an important step in the right direction.


Cascadia Center is participating in the ongoing Puget Sound Regional Council study on how to best facilitate a Puget Sound-wide network of passenger-only ferries. As that study progresses to completion, we encourage the King County Ferry District to consider the broad, multi-county nature of a regional passenger-only ferry system, and look for ways to best coordinate with other jurisdictions and operators. A voluntary inter-local agreement should be drawn up so that resources can be pooled and routes coordinated for passenger-only ferry service on Puget Sound. Signatories to the agreement should include local and county governments with a stake in passenger ferry operations, Washington State Ferries, ports, tribes, labor, and private operators under the auspices of the Passenger Vessel Association.

Following the defeat of the central Puget Sound roads and transit ballot measure Proposition 1, the state legislature may again consider the recommendations of the Stanton-Rice commission it appointed, which included a consolidated regional transportation commission for Puget Sound to plan, prioritize and fund roads and transit projects. If such an entity is ultimately created for Puget Sound, it would be important to consider anew the merits of including passenger-only ferries planning and funding under its umbrella, due in part to the daily interplay between ferries and other transit modes and transportation facilities.


We support the initial financing plan for the King County Ferry District, including the 5.5 cents per $1,000 assessed value property tax to help fund operations. In discussing both the current King County plan and possible, broader regional approaches in the future, it is useful to consider other funding sources as well. On improved docks, floats, parking and boat purchases – port districts can take a leadership role. Additional funding sources for passenger-only ferries in Puget Sound can include the federal ferry discretionary fund; hotel/motel taxes; government subsidies comparable to other forms of public transit; and concessions at redeveloped ferry gateways.


Public-private partnerships will be necessary and should be encouraged to help engender enduring passenger-only ferry service in King County, and the region. There must be a convergence between private passenger boat operators who provide sterling customer service, and the experience and skill of maritime labor. Split shifts should be allowed, staffing levels should be reasonable but not excessive, and wages good. In addition, opportunities should be sought to secure funding for passenger-only ferry infrastructure and operations through development fees or concession revenues stemming from new or remodeled terminals.


If the county and ultimately the region are to attempt to scale up passenger-only ferry travel, more parking will be required at some points of origin. One example is the Seacrest Park dock facility in West Seattle, where the county’s popular Elliot Bay Water Taxi runs to and from Pier 55 in downtown Seattle. The current small parking lot and limited street parking would likely constrain major increases in passenger volume when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is torn down for replacement. Because of where they live, and their schedules, not all passengers are able to take the valuable King County Metro shuttle bus to and from water taxi service at Seacrest Park.

However, that usually reliable shuttle bus – running between the Seacrest dock and the West Seattle Junction and Alki Beach – is noteworthy because it underscores that seamless inter-modal transit connections are required to and from passenger-only ferry points of origin and debarkation. As new routes are implemented, timely transit connections will be vital to their success, as will sufficient parking.

In addition, close consideration should also be given to terminal and waiting facilities – the movement should be away from drab, utilitarian and unwelcoming structures, to integrated transit nodes with warm, comfortable shelter and a range of commercial amenities. Like other transit modes, passenger-only ferries will compete in a consumer marketplace for customers whose primary concern is their own comfort and convenience. The terminal facilities and boats should be designed with this concern in mind.


The county and the region should look to the future, when high-speed, low-wake passenger-only ferries can further popularize this mode of travel in Puget Sound. Technological advances are imminent, as low-wake high-speed passenger-only ferries are moving through the R&D phase, then into field testing in 2009 in Kitsap County, followed by manufacturing and deployment. Building on its history in maritime and ferryboat construction, the Puget Sound region will be a leader in next generation passenger-ferry development. As the technology advances, King County and other passenger-only ferry operators should seek all possible assistance and partnerships to ensure that the vessels in service are the latest and best models – providing the greatest speed with the lowest possible impacts to the marine environment, shorelines and air quality.


Passenger-only ferries should also be developed in order to assist in emergency preparedness. If bridges and highways are severed during an earthquake, Puget Sound will need a flotilla of private passenger vessels that are U.S. Coast Guard-certified to help assure mobility for emergency responders and others.


We support the listed demonstration routes in the county’s draft operating plan, and the underlying approach: that only those routes found to be feasible will become permanent. We believe there is significant potential for north-south routes on Puget Sound, and on Lake Washington, which could help provide alternatives to congested roadways.

Thank you for considering this testimony.