BREMERTON, Wash. — Kitsap Transit is expanding fast ferry service between Bremerton and Seattle following an increase in ridership and a favorable study.
Two-boat service begins Feb. 24 when Kitsap Transit offers 24 sailings daily on weekdays during peak commute hours – 10 in the morning, 14 in the afternoon.
The announcement follows a study last fall when Kitsap Transit operated 140 one-way trips between Bremerton and Seattle for four weeks. The four-week study was meant to simulate a two-boat schedule and allowed a research team to college data to measure the impact of the fast ferries on Rich Passage's beaches and nearby coastline. Researchers found little to no impact from the additional service.
When it was still operating its own fast ferry service, Washington State Ferries faced litigation from Rich Passage property owners who alleged wakes from the 350-passenger vessels were eroding beaches and damaging bulkheads. That service ended in the mid-2000s.
A research grant was turned over to Kitsap Transit, which led to the creation of the Rich Passage 1, which went into regular service in July 2017.
Kitsap Transit has two similar vessels, which were delivered last summer. All three vessels have capacity for 118 passengers.
Annual ridership on the Bremerton-Seattle route grew by 19,671 in 2019. An average of 25,128 passengers used the service per month – up 7% over 2018, according to Kitsap Transit.
Overall ridership on the fast ferry service grew by 179,842.
Kitsap Transit also operates a route between Kingston and Seattle. Annual ridership for that route was 175,405. The service started in November of 2018.
The growth in ridership last year, according to Kitsap Transit, was driven primarily by the Kingston route, four weeks of two-boat test service on the Bremerton-Seattle route in September 2019, and a joint campaign with Washington State Ferries in January 2019 to promote walk-on passengers during the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure.
Over the past two years, the Bremerton-Seattle route generally operated 80 one-way trips a week during the winter and an additional 20 trips on Saturdays during the summer. The service expansion will mean Kitsap Transit generally operates 140 one-way trips per week this summer.
Decrease in WSF's Bremerton service
As Kitsap Transit celebrates an increase in overall ridership, state ferries previously reported a decrease in ridership.
Ridership decrease by 3.2% in 2019, blamed in part on a snowstorm, ongoing waterfront construction and alternative ferry service from Kitsap Transit.
The largest decrease of 2019 was on the Seattle-Bremerton route, with a drop in ridership of 15%, or more than 400,000 riders. That was led by a 18.4% decrease in walk-on passengers and 8.5% decrease in vehicles.
Ridership on the state’s busiest route, between Seattle and Bainbridge Island, fell 2.2%.
The largest jump came on the Southworth/Vashon segment of the “Triangle Route,” where ridership was up 5.2%, a gain of more than 10,000 customers over the 2018 totals. It was the fourth year in a row that the biggest percentage increase has been on a route serving Southworth, according to WSF.
According to WSF's 2040 Long Range Plan, "state ferry ridership is still forecast to grow by 30% to all-time highs by 2040."
The Long Range Plan also calls for the eventual addition of 16 new ferries over the next 20 years to support the projected growth.