Passenger-Only Ferry Study update

Transportation Policy Board will preview results

The Puget Sound Passenger-Only Ferry Study is nearing completion and the Transportation Policy Board will be briefed on the draft report at its upcoming meeting. 

The study reviewed 45 potential routes and conducted a three-tiered evaluation process to identify seven routes for more detailed assessment, including potential operational costs, site specific conditions, electrification potential and other elements. A webinar is planned for December 15.

The board will also have a first look at a new visualization tool in development to support the Regional Transportation Plan. The tool is the culmination of the research and data collection efforts begun last year. 

Other briefing topics include PSRC’s project tracking program and upcoming funding opportunities.

View the full agenda or watch the meeting live at 9:30 am on Thursday, December 10. 


I have several comments after listening to the Dec 10 webinar. Let me preface my comments by stating that I have over 25 years of experience operating a commercially licensed vessel from Olympia to the San Juans, into Canada, and occasionally into Lake Washington. I am also a town councilmember, and my comments are not reflective of any position the Town of Steilacoom may, or may not, have about passenger only ferries. These are my comments as a private citizen and are offered to help make the study more accurate and complete.

1. The study is titled Passenger Only Ferry, yet focuses exclusively on fast ferries. The current study ignores at least three non-fast passenger only ferries currently operating in Puget Sound. They are Argosy, the Hat Island ferry, and the Dept. of Corrections Steilacoom/McNeil Island ferry. Either you should include these passenger only ferries in the study, or re-title and re-scope the study to reflect it is only about future potential fast ferries. The study references the Kitsap Transit and King County Metro water taxi, it ignores the passenger only fast ferry operated by Clipper. Why isn't this fast ferry service included? While the study is about passenger only ferries, it does reference the WSF; yet fails to acknowledge that ferries county owned and privately operated, or county operated are a part of the transportation system. Why the inequity of including the WSF system, and not including the county ferry systems?

2. Parking lot capacity is not addressed. Identifying potential parking locations without the relationship between ferry ridership and parking capacity ignores a critical component of making passenger only ferries functional. Parking capacity at the identified terminals should be a part of the feasibility study.

3. Moorage for vessels. The study identifies that many of the routes will need a reserve boat in addition to the operating vessels. Yet the study does not identify potential locations or costs associated with that needed moorage. As an example, the current dock at the proposed 11TH St. dock in Tacoma, does not have space for two vessels docked and simultaneously have room for moorage of the third vessel. Furthermore, it is doubtful that the site can be retrofitted to accommodate three vessels simultaneously. And the study does not address the temporary moorage of vessels during the mid-day down time in Seattle. Running largely empty boats back and forth from their home port to the destination only increases operating costs and environmental impacts. This is a large component of the potential feasibility for POFF and needs to be addressed in the study.

4. Fuels. The study focuses only on electrification of vessels and ignores alternative fuel sources. The commercial marine industry is converting from diesel to LNG. I'll acknowledge that LNG may be a "bridge fuel" until electrification of maritime vessels is practical. Yet the study completely ignores this alternative (or other) fuel. There is a large marine oriented LNG facility in Tacoma designed for refueling vessels that isn't considered. Failure to consider alternative fuels is a gap in the feasibility study. The Lake Washington routes may work well for electrification.

5. During the webinar, the consultant was asked on how the speeds in restricted waterways was determined. She answered it was determined from "nautical charts." This is incorrect. Nautical charts for the proposed routes do NOT have speed limits printed on the chart. As a follow-up question about the speed of 7 knots in the Montlake Cut, her answer that 7 knots equals 5 mph is completely inaccurate. 7 knots = 8.05 mph. Vessel wake is as much a result of hull design as it is vessel speed. The lack of knowledge related to basic marine operations diminishes the credibility of the study.

6. The reason that we have the large WSF operation on the Puget Sound is that back in the 1940's and 50'ferry service on the Puget Sound was operated by the private sector. It was not economically feasible for these companies to operate, and they went out of business. The same is true today. If any of the proposed routes are economically viable, one of the current private ferry operators, or another commercial entity such as HMS Global (, which operates the Pierce County owned Steilacoom/Ketron/Anderson Island Ferry and numerous ferries (both combination and fast ferry) around the country, would offer commercial passenger only fast ferry service. The study does not address the economic viability on any of the proposed routes. POFF will require a significant public sector subsidy. Economic viability for private sector ownership is not addressed in the current draft. Policy makers will need to be aware of this issue.

7. The study, and the consultant, use the word "pilot" to describe potential trial ferry operations. This term is confusing since in the maritime industry the word "pilot" refers to either a specially trained individual who assists navigating a vessel through certain waters, such as Puget Sound Pilots ( Or the word "pilot" can mean to steer a vessel. To avoid confusion, please consider a different word for trial or demonstration projects.

8. The study references that the vessels will be made of carbon fiber. There are numerous light-weight materials that can be used for construction. The study also seems to be favoring hydrofoil design. Again this is a feasibility study about potential POFF ferries. Hull design is more an operational component not needed to evaluate the feasibility of POFF.

Thank you for your time. Again my comments are meant to make the study more accurate so that the legislature and local elected officials can make educated decisions.

Roger A. Neal

Thank you for your comments on the Passenger Only Ferry Study! They have been forwarded to the study project manager so they are included with all feedback received on the study.