King County Water Taxi celebrates ten years of service

Passenger-only ferry service growing in popularity

King County Water Taxi commemorated its tenth year of service this week at the new Pier 50 passenger-only ferry terminal.

Ridership has grown considerably since King County Water Taxi started—from 307,640 riders in all of 2010 to 357,000 in just the first six months of 2019—which doesn’t even include most of the busy summer season.

At that rate, it might match the peak ridership of the fabled Mosquito Fleet, which carried a million passengers per year according to the August 4, 1901 Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Passenger-only ferry service originated in the region as early as 1850 with the Mosquito Fleet. Fleet services began to die out in the 1930s and efforts to bring the service back to the region dot the late 1990s and early 2000s. These include the Elliott Bay Water Taxi Pilot Project and both state and private boats from Vashon, Bremerton and Kingston. 

In 2006, the State Legislature directed Washington State Ferries to exit the passenger-only ferry business to focus its resources on auto ferry routes and at the same time enabled cities, counties and transit agencies to form new Ferry Districts with expanded tax-collecting authority to fund passenger-only ferry service. 

King County was the first to form a Ferry District after a public vote in 2008. The King County Water Taxi debuted in 2009, first with the Alki route in April and the Vashon route followed that September. 

Kitsap Transit had a successful public vote to fund fast ferries in 2016 and begin its service with the Bremerton route in July 2017. Monthly ridership on the Bremerton route has jumped from 26,446 in July 2017 to 47,910 in July 2019. Kitsap Transit began offering service from Kingston in November 2018 and plans to test the water with two boat Bremerton service next week. 

Given the jump in ridership, the new terminal was planned as part of the larger effort to renovate Colman Dock. The new passenger-only facility opened on August 12, 2019 and was the site of the 10 year celebration.

PSRC contributed $21.6 million in regionally managed Federal Transit Administration funds to the new terminal. 

In addition, PSRC has received a $350,000 grant from the state to conduct a Puget Sound Region Passenger-Only Ferry Study that will assess potential new routes and identify future terminal locations to better connect communities throughout the 12 counties bordering Puget Sound as well as communities on Lake Washington and Lake Union.