(August 2011 photo of Spirit of Kingston at Seattle dock, by Oran Viriyincy, via Flickr)
Right after the holiday weekend, the King County Ferry District Board will consider taking a step toward acquiring a third boat at little or no cost – even before it builds its own two new boats for West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxi service. This was first reported by KUOW, and we have since followed up with the office of County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who chairs the board. The boat is the 65-foot catamaran Spirit of Kingston, now idle after Kingston-Seattle foot-ferry service ceased. Here’s what McDermott legislative aide Michelle Allison tells WSB:
The Port of Kingston recently discontinued service from Kingston to Seattle and announced they would no longer be a passenger ferry service provider. Their primary vessel, the Spirit of Kingston, is available for transfer to another public agency with no capital cost outlay to that entity. The vessel was purchased for 2 million dollars using Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding. The vessel is certified to carry 147 passengers and a crew of three. Due to the FTA investment, there may be an opportunity to obtain the vessel at no cost to the King County Ferry District (KCFD).
The Marine Division (KCMD) has evaluated the costs and potential savings associated with obtaining a third vessel and found that in addition to improving operational and service reliability, the addition of the Spirit of Kingston to the KCFD fleet would reduce overall expenses over the next five years and beyond.
Specifically, KCMD is recommending that Spirit of Kingston be brought into the KCFD fleet as the primary West Seattle Water Taxi vessel, and move the Rachel Marie into back-up vessel service. When the new vessels are constructed, the Spirit of Kingston would be moved into back-up vessel service. This approach increases reliability and is anticipated to save more than $425,000 on lease and rental expenses over the next five years.
Last week the Executive Committee passed a motion supporting the Chair in writing a letter of interest that would be submitted to the FTA. The full Board will weigh in on November 26th. If the full Board supports the motion, the Chair will then write the letter to the FTA. The final decision is up to the FTA but would also require one more action of the Board to approve the transfer of the asset. … As you know, we are currently running a two-boat, two-route operation so the option of a third boat as a back-up vessel with no capital cost to the Ferry District is very appealing.
Port Townsend had been interested in the Spirit of Kingston, but is reported to have shelved its plan for a foot ferry to Seattle, so King County may not have any competition if it finalizes interest in the boat.
Rachel Marie, as Water Taxi riders know, has had multiple problems in recent months. The Spirit of Kingston is slightly smaller – 65 feet compared to RM’s 77 feet – but much newer, built in 2005, while RM (as noted in this WSB report before the county leased it in 2010) was built in 1988. According to a detailed briefing paper that Allison also provided (you can read it here), the district has three options for deploying Spirit of Kingston if it’s obtained – including saving even more money in 2014, by letting one of its current vessel leases expire 9 months before the newly built boats come into service.