Could A Tacoma 'Foot Ferry' Save People From A Grueling Commute?

Sep 28, 2017

One of the starkest challenges facing South Sound leaders is how to spare residents a punishing commute to Seattle.

With transit improvements years away, some officials are looking to the sea instead. 

Members of the Tacoma City Council want to explore a "foot ferry" between their city and downtown Seattle. 

A foot ferry doesn't carry vehicles, just people. That allows it to load, unload and move more quickly. 

Kitsap Transit launched a foot ferry between Bremerton and Seattle in July that makes the trip in less than 30 minutes. 

But Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello said there's a much earlier precedent, from a century ago.

"It was lovingly called the 'mosquito fleet,'" he said. "That's how most people traveled between Tacoma and Seattle in the early 1900s. So, what's old is new again in many regards, including how we get around the region." 

Mello is the main proponent of studying the ferry concept. He said one logical place for a ferry terminal would be on Tacoma’s Thea Foss waterway, where the old mosquito fleet picked up passengers near the city's downtown.

But first, he wants a study to determine how much ferry service would cost local governments and passengers. City Council members could vote as soon as next week to begin that process. 

Mello said a foot ferry could ease traffic problems, but wouldn't solve them. 

"This is not meant to replace express bus service," he said. "It's not meant to replace Sounder commuter rail service. It's not meant to replace the coming light rail. This is meant to be another option, because clearly Puget Sound is growing." 

Mello and other council members also want to explore ways to speed up a number of Sound Sound transit upgrades that are part of the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 plan

A planned extension of the light rail line to the Tacoma Dome is expected to be done in 2030.

Mello said transit leaders may be able to push up the completion of that project and others by several months to a year or more, if officials take steps like cutting back on unnecessary studies.