Defunct Kingston ferry could improve reliability for King County’s passenger-only service

Nov 14, 2012

This ferry is costing the cash-strapped Port of Kingston thousands of dollars a month for insurance and maintenance costs. King County wants to take it over.
Credit Courtesy Port of Kingston

Their loss is our gain. That’s one way some folks are looking at the
failure of the Port of Kingston’s passenger-only ferry service.

The last sailing of the shuttle between downtown Seattle and Kingston was
September 28th.

King County is now looking at getting one of the boats to add to
its fleet on Elliot Bay, to improve its increasingly-popular
passenger-only service to West Seattle and Vashon Island.

Kingston’s passenger-only ferry service lasted just two years and lost more than a million dollars for the small port district running it.They didn’t get enough riders to make it pencil out in the down economy. 

But the two boats it operated were purchased with federal funds. Right now they’re sitting at a dock in Kingston, unused. And one of them, the MV Spirit of Kingston, would be a perfect fit for King County. It’s a high-speed catamaran built just five years ago, with space for 149 passengers.

“We could put the boat right to work on the West Seattle route – it’s a perfect boat for that route,” says Paul Brodeur, Director of the Marine Division that runs the passenger-only ferry service for King County. 

He says the Federal Transportation Agency, which paid for the Kingston ferry to be built, is looking to keep it in business. So King County is getting the paperwork together to make the case to
the feds to keep it here.

“And that’s what we’re exploring: a transfer with no capital outlay to
the ferry district,” Brodeur says.

So, if the proposal is approved by the feds, King County would get the ferry for free.

Brodeur says it wouldn’t add any service, but would improve reliability and lower costs for the ferry district. It would be used as back-up, when one of the boats currently on the routes to West Seattle and Vashon breaks down or has to undergo routine maintenance. Right now, the district charters substitute vessels from private companies when that happens.

It could also be used to make a more affordable transition to new ferries the district is planning to have built in 2013 and 2014, Brodeur says. The leases on the two boats currently in use expire before the new ferries will be ready, so having the MV Spirit of Kingston available would add to the savings on chartered substitutes or a possible extension of the leases. And the Kingsston boat is newer and in much better repair, Brodeur says.

And for the Port of Kingston, a transfer can’t come soon enough, says
its executive director, Kori Henry – because the cost to maintain and
insure the boat, even unused at the dock, is about $2,000 a month.