The Tacoma City Council has received the results of the Tacoma Fast Ferry Feasibility Study funded in conjunction with the Port of Tacoma and Pierce Transit. The study concluded that it just might pencil out.
Seeing the success of the Bremerton Fast Ferry, earlier this year, At-Large Councilmember Ryan Mello led an effort to begin a feasibility study of passenger-only ferry service from Tacoma to Seattle.
“I am pleased that we took the time to look at the data and that initial indications are that passenger-only ferry service between Tacoma and Seattle is feasible,” said Mello. “We still have a lot of work to do and details to flesh out, but I appreciate all the hard work our partners have undertaken to explore this option in a fiscally responsible manner. I am very excited at the possibility of adding another mode of transportation to the options available to residents, particularly one that gives people options other than sitting in traffic.”
The feasibility study examined estimated operating and capital costs, as well as possible routes and landing sites, along with estimates of ridership and cost. Depending on the landing site chosen, expected travel time would be between 43 and 55 minutes, making this a competitive transit option, particularly during peak commuting hours. Fares are estimated to be approximately $11 one way. Average weekday boardings were estimated to be 1,800 to 2,150 by the year 2040.
With the cost to establish a ferry terminal ranging from $500,000 to $3 million, as well as the $10 million to $17 million to acquire the vessels, the capital costs are significant, and funds for implementation have yet to be identified. However, estimates on the percentage of costs that would be recovered through fares is only somewhat lower than other modes such as buses. For context, the cost of WSDOT’s I-5 – SR 16 Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program is $1.5 billion.
“This is as much an economic driver for Tacoma as it is a way to be resilient in the face of major emergencies and massive growth pressures for our region,” Mello continued. “This is as much about getting people to Tacoma to work, shop and play as it is getting people to other points north. Also, when a major disaster affects central Puget Sound affecting our current roadways and bridges, having other modes of transportation will be essential to keeping our economy moving.”
Next steps include updating a Puget Sound-wide Passenger Only Ferry Study that will include detailed business planning for the Tacoma – Seattle route to include stakeholder engagement, financing strategies, refined costs, and detailed route information. Financing for this study is requested in the 2019 State Transportation Budget.