West Seattle, Washington
2:39 PM: From King County Transportation:
The M/V Spirit of Kingston (social-distancing passenger capacity of 33) will be on the West Seattle Water Taxi route all evening, replacing the Doc Maynard (86-passenger capacity) while it operates on the Vashon route. The Sally Fox will be out of service tonight while a pilot-house window is replaced. Please plan your commute accordingly in the event that West Seattle customer demand exceeds available capacity on any individual sailing.
The water taxi continues to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through regular cleaning and disinfecting between sailings. Masks are required for both passengers and crew.
3:10 PM: Update – back to normal!
essel Maintenance on the M/V Sally Fox completed early, which allows the Water Taxi to operate at the normal social distancing capacity of 86 on both the West Seattle and Vashon routes. Current ridership has been well below this threshold. Thank you to the engineering team for the expedited work!
In recent weeks, Metro has previewed the “action plan” it’s been working on for West Seattle, post-bridge closure. The plan, which details both what’s been done and what’s ahead, has just gone public. See it in its entirety here or below:
Some of what’s in it has been discussed already at meetings we’ve covered – but if you want every single detail of what’s been discussed and what’s ahead, plus costs and even communication plans, this is your document. This includes the Water Taxi as well as buses and vanpools.
A few excerpts – first, its origins:
A Metro Core team (“WSB Response Team”) was formed immediately following notice of the West Seattle Bridge closure to develop a Metro Transit Action Plan (Plan), which would address the Peninsula’s mobility needs. The closure affected all WS routes that used the West Seattle Bridge (RapidRide C Line, 21, 21X, 37, 50, 55, 56, 57, 116, 118, 119, 120, 125) plus those routes that use the 1st Avenue South/ South Park Bridges (60, 113, 121, 122, 123, 131, 132) which will see extremely congested conditions once traffic approaches pre-COVID levels.
And an overview:
As of the time of publication, Metro and the City of Seattle have identified five high visibility mobility improvements that the two agencies will jointly plan for based on potential availability of third party or other funding. These concepts, including detailed descriptions, annual costs, and transportation benefit will be developed over the course of summer 2020 and would be ready to implement upon a return of demand and identification of funding.
High-Visibility mobility service improvements:
1. Water Taxi service upgrades: up to two boats all-day (peak, off peak, weekend) year round, roughly corresponding to the 5am-9pm daily period when SOVs are not allowed on the low bridge
2. Route 773/775 Water Taxi shuttle improvements: new route(s) and/or substantially increased frequency
3. RapidRide C Line service frequency upgrades: add additional peak and off peak trips
4. All day fixed route service between Admiral and Downtown: such as and all day Route 56, which historically provided this all-day service until 2012)
5. Route 50 service frequency upgrades: add additional peak and off peak trips as far east as Sodo Station
Note that phrase “third-party funding.” The plan refers to the expiring Seattle Transportation Benefit District funding, but it should be noted that a new 6-year STBD funding plan to pay for “extra” Metro service, including some money earmarked for West Seattle, is going to city voters in November.
The ‘action plan” also addresses the current pandemic-specfic challenges:
Currently Metro monitors passenger loads daily and identifies trends in which routes and trips experience crowding beyond COVID-based thresholds. Overcrowding is tracked using per vehicle-based crowding thresholds for social distancing (e.g. 12 passengers on 40’, and 18 passengers on 60’ coaches). Service Development and other teams support the effort. Additional trips are then deployed as needed, and as possible within workforce and budget constraints. The typical turnaround is approximately one week, but we have the ability to move faster if needed, and because these added trips are not published publicly, we do not need to add extra time for customer communications. In general this turnaround time is needed to distinguish between trends and one-off occurrences. We will be further identifying resources available in Metro’s upcoming 2021/2022 budget, but do currently have the ability to add service to quickly meet demand.
The plan also addresses routing alternatives that would be needed if the low bridge was out of commission for either bridge-repair logistics or high-bridge collapse. And it recaps Metro’s plans to expand some service in September:
Table 4 highlights Metro’s fixed route service plan beginning with the September 2020 service change, on Monday, September 21. Most all-day route in West Seattle will operate without temporary reductions or suspensions. Due to reduced funding from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), many routes will operate at reduced service levels compared to pre-COVID levels. Peak period service that is currently suspended will resume at reduced service levels due to reduced STBD funding on the following routes:
• Admiral, Alaska Junction, Genesee Hill, Alki (55, 56, 57)
Service suspensions will continue on several West Seattle routes:
• Peak-only downtown-bound Vashon and Fauntleroy service (116, 118 Express, 119 Express)
• Peak-only Alki bus service (37)
• Route 22 service in Arbor Heights, Gatewood, and Alaska Junction (intra-West Seattle)
Additional supplemental service will be available to deploy and quickly respond to crowding issues on West Seattle service as it arises.
One more excerpt of interest – Metro has four park-and-ride lots in West Seattle now but has pondered expanding:
Steps could be taken to expand park & ride capacity serving West Seattle transit routes by:
• Reconfiguring existing lots to yield more spaces. In particular, additional parking spaces could be striped at the Spokane Street park & ride
• Leasing additional parking capacity, concentrated around major bus transfer points. An initial analysis identified up to 93 locations throughout West Seattle that could be appropriate for leasing, including lots serving commercial properties, churches, public parks and residential complexes. This analysis identified up to:
o 550 spaces within walking distance of Seacrest Park
o 375 spaces within walking distance of bus stops at the Admiral Junction
o 430 spaces within walking distance of bus stops at the Alaska Junction
o 130 spaces within walking distance of bus stops at the Morgan Junction
o 315 spaces within walking distance of bus stops and the ferry dock at Fauntleroy
o 1200 spaces within walking distance of bus stops at Westwood Village
• Partnering with technology platforms that match drivers with reserved parking spaces. Metro’s Innovative Mobility group is in talks with Spot Hero and other companies that allow travelers to reserve and pay for parking spaces operated by private owners ranging from retailers to residential property managers. This model could be adapted to help travelers access transit, and could potentially be used to offer TDM incentives
A lot of this is “could” rather than “will,” not just because of funding, but also because they’re just not sure what’ll happen with ridership – many employers, private and public, have extended teleworking until at least the start of next year.
We’re reminding you tonight that Metro and the King County Water Taxi are restoring some service tomorrow, after months of much-reduced service levels. For the Water Taxi, you can see the new schedule here. You’re reminded that “it’s important to note that social distancing passenger limits are in effect on the water taxi. The typical capacity aboard both Doc Maynard and Sally Fox is 278 passengers. With current COVID restrictions, we’re limited to 86 passengers on each vessel.” The shuttles, Routes 773 and 775, return to service too. As for Metro, here’s what’s coming back. You can also check here for canceled trips. The system is still fare-free, and buses are still running at reduced capacity too.
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.