West Seattle, Washington
Metro says ridership is now 30 percent of normal so as of Monday, it’s reducing service further. The routes to be entirely (temporarlly) cut as of Monday go beyond the 37 and 125 that were already axed – now the list of eliminated-for-now routes includes West Seattle-serving 21X, 55, 56, 57, 113, 116, and the Water Taxi shuttles 773, 775, Most other routes have reductions; a handful of West Seattle-serving routes including the 22, 60, 128, and 131 are keeping most if not all trips. As for the Water Taxi itself, its schedule also will be slashed. Here’s the full announcement (which includes the new WT schedule).
During past traffic crunches, like Alaskan Way Viaduct closures and the Viaduct-to-Tunnel transition, the West Seattle Water Taxi has seen a surge in ridership. The high-rise West Seattle Bridge closure comes at a time when the COVID=19 “stay-home order” has already dramatically reduced ridership, but we were still curious how it’s affected WT usage, so we asked King County.
Spokesperson Torie Rynning provided the newest numbers (PDF). Ridership was actually lower last week than the week before – 167 morning riders total for 3/23-3/27, 196 pm riders, compared to 173/337 for 3/16-3/20. We don’t have the exact numbers for the same period last year but in a Monday post on the Water Taxi blog, Rynning wrote that ridership is overall down 90 percent. That post also addresses the question of whether WT service will be increased because of the bridge closure: For now, it’s clearly not needed, but, “We’ve already assembled a task force that is developing various plans to ramp back up and to add service when ridership demand increases.” In the meantime, the WSWT remains on its five-day-a-week, AM/PM-commute-times-only schedule TFN (in normal times, it would be on the 7-day-a-week spring/summer schedule by now).
The West Seattle Water Taxi was originally supposed to change to the 7-day-a-week spring/summer schedule one week from tomorrow. But that’s now delayed at least a month. Here’s what the King County Department of Transportation says:
We will now postpone the start of peak season service and reevaluate a new start date in one month. We’ll maintain our current winter schedule through April 20, 2020, continuing to provide morning and afternoon commute service from downtown to and from West Seattle and Vashon Island.
Our ridership has decreased 23 percent over the last two weeks as more people are practicing social distancing by staying home or telecommuting. Our vessels are not at capacity and riders who do come on board are able to maintain safe distance in accordance with Public Health guidelines. At this point, it is not a good use of taxpayer resources to add additional service.
Running commute and peak service requires more crew, and we must preserve our crew in order to maintain core commute service in the event that our workforce is affected by COVID-19.
At this time, the water taxi team does not intend to reduce service beyond current service levels.
Most immediately, we’re putting safety first by cleaning and disinfecting our vessels several times daily, including sanitization of handrails, tabletops and seats.
Wondering just how much ridership has dropped? Some stats on both the Water Taxi and Metro buses were published Friday. Between March 2nd and March 12th, daily ridership fell by almost two-thirds.
As previously noted, MV Spirit of Kingston filled in on the West Seattle Water Taxi route again this morning because of MV Doc Maynard‘s U.S. Coast Guard inspection. Now it’s been announced that SoK will continue on the run tonight and tomorrow – always notable because it has a 149-passenger capacity, compared to DM’s 278. Spokesperson Jeff Switzer tells us the DM needs “a sensor” and will return to service once that’s in place.
Thanks to commenter NewNative for the tip that MV Doc Maynard was off the West Seattle Water Taxi run this morning, with no alert to explain. We checked with the county; spokesperson Jeff Switzer explains that Doc Maynard was off the route this morning and will be again tomorrow morning for its “annual Coast Guard inspections.” The smaller MV Spirit of Kingston will fill in again tomorrow morning.
4:33 PM: Just in from the King County Water Taxi: The smaller Spirit of Kingston is handling today’s PM runs, in place of Doc Maynard. (We’re checking to see if that’s expected to continue tomorrow.)
5:04 PM: Spokesperson Torie Rynning tells WSB, “We are hoping to have Doc Maynard back in service tomorrow morning if we can untangle the line wrapped around the propeller tonight.”
8:01 PM: Fixed, so Doc Maynard will be back in service tomorrow.
P.S. Holiday reminder – no Water Taxi service Monday, which is Presidents Day.
(WSB photo of Water Taxi line at Seacrest, January 2019)
One month into the new year, a notable stat from the old year: Record ridership on the King County Water Taxi‘s two routes, including West Seattle to downtown, boosted of course by the Viaduct-to-Tunnel transition. Here’s the announcement sent this afternoon:
The King County Water Taxi celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2019 with a record-breaking year of connecting West Seattle and Vashon Island to downtown Seattle. In 2019, the West Seattle Water Taxi’s ridership was 443,993 and the Vashon Island route’s ridership was 257,615, for a grand total of 701,608 boardings.
In comparison, ridership for 2018 was 414,967 in West Seattle and 249,398 for the Vashon Island route. King County Water Taxi has carried 5.4 million riders since starting service for the King County Ferry District in 2009, and this year’s record-setting ridership represents a 115% increase over its humble beginnings.
“It’s no surprise that more and more people are catching on to all that the Water Taxi has to offer – scenic views, ample seating, fast sailings, and zero traffic,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “We’re continually seeking innovative, expanded ways to help our region’s growing population get around, and the Water Taxi is a perfect example of that, providing a creative transportation solution to commuters, local explorers, and visitors alike.”
Though ridership has increased nearly every year, one notable variable contributed to the Water Taxi’s strong performance in 2019.
Throughout the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure in January, the Water Taxi provided a congestion-free alternative to the Seattle Squeeze. During the first Monday commute, 1,350 passengers boarded West Seattle Water Taxi compared to 350 on the same day in 2018. The route maintained double the ridership throughout the closure, up 142% compared to the same dates in 2018.
“From a persistent pilot project to 700,000 riders, the water taxi has proven an integral part of our transit system,” said King County Councilmember Joe McDermott. “During the viaduct closure, the West Seattle route was up 142% as people sought a fast and reliable commute downtown. As more people look for ways to get out of their cars, preserving and expanding water taxi service will be key to our region’s success.”
Annual ridership isn’t the only record broken by the Water Taxi. In December 2019, 6,575 people responded to a public survey on possible water taxi expansion, a record for any Metro survey. The survey was requested by the King County Council to consider potential future water taxi service to Ballard and Kenmore. Comprehensive survey results will be transmitted to council in July 2020.
For the rest of the winter, the King County Water Taxi‘s backup boat Spirit of Kingston will have a regular spot – Friday mornings on the West Seattle route. KCDOT spokesperson Torie Rynning tells WSB that this starts tomorrow, January 3rd. The regular West Seattle boat, Doc Maynard, will in turn handle the Vashon run on Friday mornings. Rynning cites three reasons for the change:
*Allows the Spirit of Kingston to not sit idle
*Doc Maynard can “get some exercise” on the longer trip to Vashon
*More routine maintenance can be conducted on the Sally Fox
SoK has a little more than half the DM’s passenger capacity, and a lower bicycle capacity too. The 7-day-a-week spring/summer schedule starts March 23rd on the West Seattle run; Vashon service is 5 days a week year-round. (Update: Rynning adds that this might continue past the start of the 7-day schedule.)
After two weeks on the Vashon run, the Doc Maynard returns to the West Seattle route this afternoon, and the smaller Spirit of Kingston goes back to backup status. The Doc Maynard had been filling in for the Vashon route’s regular boat, Sally Fox, while it was out for repairs, which have just been completed.
Announced this afternoon by the King County Water Taxi:
Due to a mechanical issue on one of the Sally Fox’s main engines, the 149-passenger Spirit of Kingston will replace the 278-passenger Doc Maynard on the West Seattle route. West Seattle riders should plan accordingly given the reduced passenger capacity, especially on the 8:00 and 8:35 morning sailings as well as the 4:45 and 5:25 evening sailings. The Doc Maynard will provide service on the higher ridership Vashon Island route. The Sally Fox repairs are expected to be complete next week, at which time the vessels will return to their usual assignments.
This is the first week of the fall/winter schedule for the Water Taxi, which doesn’t return to 7-day service until March 21, 2020.
Last night, we published WSDOT‘s update of south-downtown traffic-flow changes related to the shifting Alaskan Way Viaduct demolition work. Tonight, an alert is just in for King County Water Taxi riders:
Thursday morning, Yesler Way will be open across Alaskan Way. Pedestrians will need to be on the north side of Yesler in order to cross Alaskan Way. Also, tonight, South Jackson street at Alaskan Way S will be closed.
Since Kitsap Fast Ferries are sharing the space, Kitsap Transit’s board chair, Bainbridge Island Mayor Kol Medina, shared the podium with King County Executive Dow Constantine at a media briefing this morning.
Constantine, a longtime Water Taxi champion, said he was “amazed” by how well the project turned out, “way better” than he had imagined. Here are some of the highlights:
We asked King County Marine Division director Paul Brodeur for his favorite features. Above, the Douglas-fir ceiling – “sustainably harvested,” he noted – as well as the many accessibility improvements, including a tactile path from Alaskan Way to the facility entrance:
Here’s the spot where a person following that path will turn to go into the facility:
Brodeur also expressed appreciation for the “1 Percent for Art” feature inside. It’s subtle, and we wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t pointed it out:
The posts – meant to emulate pilings with tide lines – are by artist Leo Berk; his many other public-art sites include Highland Park Spraypark. Also part of the new facility, digital signage and 9 ticket machines:
One feature that’s not ready to go yet – new connections to the main terminal – the connections should be complete within a month or so. (Important because, as one question toward the briefing’s end revealed, there’s no restroom in the new facility.) Wondering about the cost? From the news release:
The total cost of the project is $45 million, which includes the new building and the new float for boats to dock. Approximately 80 percent of the funding came from a grant from the Federal Transit Administration.
If you travel through the new facility today, you might still have a chance at opening-day swag, including little foam boats and decorated cookies:
So now that the downtown dock is upgraded, what about West Seattle, which is still using the Seacrest fishing pier after 20+ years? Constantine had nothing concrete to announce but replied that the new Pier 50 will “show the way” and that it’s proof that the region’s commitment to passenger ferries – not always a sure bet – “is past the point of no return.”
We’ll add briefing video later.
At right in the photo above is the new passenger-ferry facility at Pier 50 downtown, a few weeks before its completion. It’s ready to go now, and King County Water Taxi and Kitsap Fast Ferry passengers will be first to use it Monday morning. As we reported Friday, West Seattle service will resume with the route’s regular full-size vessel, Doc Maynard. It’s been exactly two years since the passenger ferries’ Seattle dock moved to a temporary spot at Pier 52 so the new facility could be built as part of the Colman Dock overhaul (longer than the year and a half estimated in 2017, and the “little more than a year” mentioned on the WT website). We’ll get a close-up look at the new facility during a media tour tomorrow morning.
Just in case you were wondering, we checked. King County Transportation spokesperson Travis Shofner reassures us that everything’s on track for West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxi service to resume Monday morning, using the new terminal at Pier 50 downtown. Since the smaller Spirit of Kingston was on the West Seattle run before the service suspension, we also sought confirmation that the regular vessel Doc Maynard will be back. Shofner says yes, that’s on track too, with Doc Maynard expected o be “back out of dry dock and back in the water
Two reminders about the Water Taxi: First, it’s running on an extended schedule tonight because of the Sounders FC game at CenturyLink Field. Second, remember that right after that, both the West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxi routes are scheduled to be suspended ALL WEEK for the downtown dock move. The 773 and 775 shuttles will continue running, though, according to the county’s shutdown-week transit-rundown here.
As noted in the morning traffic watch, the smaller Spirit of Kingston took over the West Seattle Water Taxi unannounced yesterday. After we inquired how long that will last, this advisory was sent:
The 149-passenger MV Spirit of Kingston will operate service on the West Seattle route for the remainder of this week. The 278-passenger MV Doc Maynard – the route’s regular vessel, will operate service on the Vashon route in place of the Sally Fox which is in drydock for a routine annual inspection. All vessels are scheduled to return to their regular routes once the new Pier 50 facility opens on Monday, August 12. Riders should plan accordingly.
The “new Pier 50 facility” reference relates to yesterday’s announcement of the rescheduled one-week suspension of service for the long-awaited downtown dock move.
The service suspension originally planned for last week has been rescheduled for next week. Here’s the announcement:
King County Water Taxi will suspend service Aug. 5-11 as construction crews complete work that will allow vessels to operate out of the new downtown Seattle passenger dock at Pier 50.
King County Water Taxi and Kitsap Fast Ferry customers have boarded vessels at a temporary location at Pier 52 since August 2017 to allow for construction. The new facility will be located on the south side of Colman Dock at Pier 50 and is part of a larger project to renovate Colman Dock.
While service is suspended, construction crews will move the gangway from its current temporary location at Pier 52 to the new terminal and finalize connections and testing necessary for operations at the new terminal. Service is scheduled to resume on Monday, Aug. 12.
The new passenger ferry terminal represents a major investment in passenger ferry service and the region’s long-term mobility, connecting downtown Seattle with West Seattle, Vashon and the Kitsap Peninsula. The new covered facility will have room for approximately 500 passengers. Later this summer, the facility also will feature an observation platform overlooking the bay at the west end as construction progresses.
From King County Water Taxi management: M/V Doc Maynard is getting a propeller replaced, so the lower-capacity Spirit of Kingston is on the run until Saturday. That could mean some sold-out runs, so don’t wait till the last minute to show up for a particular departure!
The King County Water Taxi will remain in service the week of July 22-28 at Pier 52 to allow additional time to complete necessary work at the new Pier 50 passenger terminal, and a planned temporary suspension of service to move to the new facility will be announced soon
(This will provide) additional time for contractor crews to finish necessary security and safety installations and ADA accessibility projects. Passengers will continue to board and disembark at the temporary facility on Pier 52 until the new facility is opened.
Temporary service suspension of all Water Taxi routes will be announced soon. During that time, crews will finish work at the new facility at Pier 50 including moving the gangway, finishing flooring, and installing electronic equipment.
It’s been almost two years since a short break in West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxi service so it could move to an interim downtown terminal during construction of the permanent new one. Now, it’s time for another break to move “back,” as announced today:
From Monday, July 22 through Sunday, July 28 for all scheduled sailings, King County Water Taxi and Kitsap Fast Ferry service will be temporarily suspended while staff make final preparations needed to shift service from the temporary terminal at Pier 52 to the new passenger only terminal at Pier 50. Service is anticipated to resume Monday, July 29.
You can read more about the transition here.
Back in December, we reported on a King County Water Taxi survey “to address bicycle capacity issues,” with questions including whether a fee should be charged to bring a bike on board. The decision on that, so far, is “no,” but the county has announced new limits on bicycle capacity per sailing, as well as a limit on bicycle size. The new policies take effect a week from Monday (on June 24th) and are explained in this update on the Water Taxi website.
A choppy start to the West Seattle Water Taxi‘s 7-day-a-week schedule – the 3:45 pm departure from downtown is being skipped because, per the county alert:
Due to a mechanical issue with the Doc Maynard, the 3:45 departure from West Seattle has been cancelled while the crew takes the vessel to the King County maintenance facility and brings the Spirit of Kingston into service beginning with the 4:05 departure from Pier 52.
The substitution could be problematic later since the Mariners’ home opener could mean bigger usage, and SoK is a smaller boat. We’re checking.
(WSB photo from January)
3:02 PM: The West Seattle Water Taxi‘s seven-day-a-week schedule starts Thursday, and that means the end of the 2-boat service that started just before the Alaskan Way Viaduct permanently closed. You can preview the spring/summer schedule here. Key points, as the county reminds us, are that the Water Taxi will:
*Be in service seven days a week from Pier 50 downtown to West Seattle
*Include late evening sailings every Friday and Saturday
*Depart downtown Seattle as late as 10:45 p.m. during Seattle Mariners, Sounders and Seahawks night home games
Thursday is in fact the Mariners‘ home opener, though the game starts at 4:10 pm, so the Water Taxi’s not likely to have to run that late.
ADDED TUESDAY NIGHT: Turns out TODAY was the final day of 2-boat service – see this service advisory for Wednesday.