Just two years after ferry officials announced they were scrapping passenger-only ferry service to save money, the state is considering getting back into the business. Washington State Ferries is...

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Just two years after ferry officials announced they were scrapping passenger-only ferry service to save money, the state is considering getting back into the business.

Washington State Ferries is preparing a report for the state Legislature looking at service on a triangular route from Southworth to Vashon Island to downtown Seattle.

The only passenger service not eliminated last year was the Vashon-to-downtown-Seattle run. But that was only given a reprieve until June and would have to be reauthorized by the Legislature.

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The Legislature last year asked the state ferry system to study passenger-ferry routes. The study found that Southworth is a strong potential market.

At this time, the ferry system is not considering resuming other passenger-only runs.

Ray Deardorf, state ferries’ planning director, said studies show there is enough space on the Seattle-Bainbridge car ferry to accommodate walk-on passengers until 2015. A new private passenger ferry from Kingston to downtown Seattle, set to start next month, will help to alleviate demand on the Kingston route.

Further, he said the Sounder train that stops in Edmonds helps walk-on ferry passengers get to downtown Seattle.

The state had proposed adding passenger service from Kingston to downtown Seattle. But that evaporated in 1999 with Initiative 695, which severely cut transportation funding.

Aqua Express, a private consortium, plans to begin passenger service from Kingston to Seattle in mid-January.

Deardorf said studies have found that nearly half of the riders on the Vashon-Seattle passenger ferry come from Southworth by car ferry and then transfer to the passenger boat.

He said the two passenger boats on the Vashon route, the Skagit and the Kalama, are in poor shape and need to be replaced. But the state has two mothballed 350-passenger ferries, the Chinook and the Snohomish, that could be used on the Southworth-Vashon-Seattle route.

“We’re not proposing anything,” Deardorf said, “but just laying out … how the state can use its existing assets to serve the demand in that corridor.

“We feel there is substantial potential demand at Southworth.”

The state said it might operate the boats only during the peak commuting times and estimates the 400 riders now on the Seattle-Vashon passenger route could grow to 1,000 for the same four-hour peak westbound route by 2010.

The earliest the new passenger-ferry service could begin is 2007, said Mike Anderson, acting ferries director, because of permitting issues and labor negotiations.

Except for Vashon Island, the state dropped passenger-ferry service in September 2003 under a sweeping cost-cutting move.

Then-ferries chief Mike Thorne said that ending the passenger-only service could save the ferry system $7.8 million.

But it generated an outcry from riders who relied on the passenger ferries and prompted the Legislature to give Vashon residents a two-year reprieve.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com