With more people moving from King County to Kitsap County for affordable housing, more passenger-only ferry service might be in the future.
Recently, Seattle Times columnist Gene Balk wrote that Kitsap County was now a top destination for people moving out of Seattle. There are three reasons for this: first, the high cost of purchasing a home in Seattle; second, the availability of affordable housing in Kitsap County; and third, the addition of passenger-only ferry service out of downtown Bremerton and the community of Kingston. People can now commute into downtown Seattle in less than 45 minutes while drinking their coffee and reading the morning paper without having to drive their car.
Three years ago Kitsap County voters passed an increase in the sales tax to support a passenger-only ferry service, operated by Kitsap Transit and run out of three destinations in the county. The third service out of south Kitsap County is scheduled to begin operation next year. The two boats, carrying 149 and about 250 passengers, are running full most of the time.
Could this Kitsap County effort be the beginning of a fleet of passenger-only ferries running throughout Puget Sound, connecting communities on the Sound to downtown Seattle? If so, it would not be the first time.
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From the mid-1850s to the 1930s, a fleet of smaller steam ships connected almost every community on Puget Sound to downtown Seattle. This transportation system was called the Mosquito Fleet and involved more than 100 ships, each carrying from 50 to 250 people. The most popular route was the Tacoma-to-Seattle route. The system lasted until 1939, and today the Virginia V is the last survivor of the Mosquito Fleet. The addition of rail and highways throughout the Puget Sound region put an end to the need for this system of small water-transportation vessels up until today.
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Could it be we might be witnessing the return of a passenger-only water system, similar to the Mosquito Fleet, driven by the need for people working in downtown Seattle to be able to find affordable housing outside of Seattle, where housing costs have become unaffordable for the middle-class family?
The city of Tacoma is already looking at options for financing a passenger only-ferry system connecting Tacoma to downtown Seattle. (Washington State Ferries made the decision years ago not to provide passenger-only ferry service but gave communities the power to create their own passenger-only ferry taxing district.) One could even imagine a passenger-only ferry running on Lake Washington, from Kirkland or Bellevue into South Lake Union. We see these kind of ferry systems running into San Francisco and New York, each day bringing commuters who can’t afford to live in the city but need to work in the city, and they don’t bring their cars.
If one looks out 20 years, it is not hard to imagine a passenger-only ferry system into downtown Seattle from all over Puget Sound — from Tacoma, Everett, Port Townsend, Gig Harbor and anywhere people go to find affordable housing while still working in downtown Seattle.
Could it be the return of the Mosquito Fleet?