A perspective on passenger-only ferries

Future Tides founder and writer Cara Kuhlman grew up around passenger ferries, worked at a ferry builder and now writes about them.

A perspective on passenger-only ferries
A passenger ferry crosses Elliot Bay towards downtown Seattle. (SDOT Photo)

I rode my first passenger ferry to San Francisco at only a few weeks old, following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. My mother commuted by a similar ferry from Alameda to San Francisco’s Financial District for years.

My former employer Kvichak Marine Industries, now part of Vigor Industrial, built ferries for WETA, the regional transit service that runs the San Francisco Bay Ferries.

Even when I was in awe of Washington State’s automobile ferries, I’ve long wondered why the more passenger ferries weren’t operating in the Seattle region.

A man wearing glasses and a hat on the deck of a boat holds a small baby in a carrier on his chest.
My first passenger-only ferry ride across San Francisco Bay. (Cara Kuhlman Photo)

My interest was instantly piqued in 2019 when I heard about a survey being conducted to gauge interest for expanding King County Metro’s water taxi routes. At that time, I’d only ridden the King County Water Taxi once. That sailing was from West Seattle with my mom, a fun trip that reminded us both of past sailings into San Francisco.

After researching the recent article on the proposed expansion, I see a few possible trends emerging:

  • The expansion of King County Metro’s Water Taxi could be slowed or limited due to funding, capital infrastructure and comparative costs to land-based services.
  • However, it could also be buoyed by the department’s sustainability efforts, providing a high-capacity, low-emissions transit option.
  • Even without King County Metro expanding its water taxi routes, passenger ferry services in the region could continue to expand through nearby transit operators, such with Kitsap Transit’s Fast-Ferry service.

A regional passenger-only ferry study was also conducted in 2020. More to come from Future Tides on this topic.

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