After a year of promising that fast ferry service from Kingston would begin in 2018, Kitsap Transit finally delivered.

The official first sailing departed from Kingston at 5:25 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 26, bound for downtown Seattle. The first sailing carried about 70 passengers. The 7:05 a.m. carried twice as many, filling the M/V Finest almost to capacity.

While the vessel can carry up to 350 people, Kitsap Transit is starting out by capping seats at 150 while the agency determines how much demand exists for the service.

“The service will start then and continue to operate long into the future,” Kitsap Transit executive director John Clauson told a crowded room of Kingston residents at the Village Green Community Center on Saturday morning.

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In addition to the start date, Kitsap Transit unveiled other key details about Kingston service — including a final schedule, fare structure, crossing time and the addition of two new bus lines that will serve the route.

Like Bremerton, Kingston’s fast ferry will begin on a winter commuter schedule with six roundtrip sailings a day — three in the morning and three in the afternoon. The earliest sailing leaves Kingston at 5:25 a.m. and arrives in Seattle at about 6:04. For now, the latest sailing from Seattle is 6:45 p.m.

Kitsap Transit plans to add sailings on Saturdays and later in the evening when it transitions to its summer schedule next year.

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The projected 39-minute crossing time allows riders to avoid the hassle of driving to Bainbridge Island or catching the state ferry to Edmonds to get to Seattle, both options take upwards of 70 minutes, Clauson said.

“That's an awful lot of time to be spending one way to get two and from Seattle,” Clauson said.

Because the vessel running the Kingston route, the M/V Finest, has a capacity of up to 350 passengers, Kitsap Transit elected not to use a reservation system in Kingston, an announcement that elicited cheers and applause from audience members at Village Green.

Kingston residents will pay the same fare prices as Bremerton riders, however: $2 to Seattle and $10 back.

To get to the ferry, Kitsap Transit has started two new bus routes on the same day that fast ferry service begins. The first route is an express bus that will start at the North Viking transit center and travel directly to the ferry terminal via Bond Road, with a stop at the George’s Corner park and ride lot.

The second route starts at the Clearwater Casino park-and-ride lot on Highway 305 and will pass through Suquamish, Indianola and West Kingston Road on its way to the terminal. The route will also pick up riders at the Bayside Community Church park-and-ride lot.

For residents outside those areas, Kitsap Transit will have an “Uber-style” service where riders can call in advance and schedule a time and place to be picked up.

“Don’t drive down here and park; take a bus,” Clauson said.

For most of the year, transit officials have remained tight-lipped about the when service would start, saying only that it would begin sometime in 2018. The original passenger-only ferry plan called for Kingston to kick off in summer 2018, but that timeline was delayed by setbacks on the Finest, which took longer to transport and repair than originally anticipated.

Contractors finished repair work on the barge where the Finest will dock and passengers will board the ferry last week, clearing the final hurdle for Kitsap Transit.

“I will tell you that (the barge) was one of the key components before I was comfortable to announce a start date,” Clauson said.

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The M/V Melissa Ann, a 172-passenger catamaran owned by Four Seasons Marine heads to the Bremerton Ferry Dock on Thursday, October 18, 2018. The vessel will serve as a backup on the Kingston-Seattle route. (Photo: Meegan M. Reid / Kitsap Sun)

Kingston residents who attended the early-morning meeting on Saturday appeared on board and ready to embrace the fast ferry. Leslie Linkkila and her husband, Phillip Dinuovo, have hoped for a high-speed connection to Seattle since they moved to the over two decades ago.

“When we bought our property in '91 this was a dream of ours,” Linkkila said.

Both Linkkila and Dinuovo commuted to work in Seattle back then and said the fast ferry would have been an immediate upgrade over traveling to the state ferry on Bainbridge Island. Linkkila also praised the “Uber-style” bus service, since the pair live outside of downtown.

“I didn't know about that, that's thrilling,” she said.

Matthew Link has also been waiting for the fast ferry to return. Link works in downtown Seattle and said he moved to North Kitsap in part because he could commute using the Port of Kingston’s Soundrunner service. Soundrunner went under in 2012, and Link has been commuting to work via the state ferry and Edmonds ever since.

“I’ve been waiting for this forever,” Link said. “To put it mildly, yes. I’m really excited about it.”

While he added that he wished Kitsap Transit would have communicated to the Kingston community better about the delays, it won’t stop him from using the service.

“I’m ready to get on. Like if they were running tomorrow, (or) Monday morning, I’d be on,” Link said.

On Nov. 23, the Finest went back and forth to Seattle all day for free.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity for the community to come down and experience it,” Clauson said.