KT adds state-funded expansion to fast ferry schedule

Ferry riders of Central and South Kitsap finally have more ride options available after Kitsap Transit announced a short-term expansion of its Bremerton-Seattle fast ferry service.

The call to action has been long-awaited by the public and businesses, who have been affected by the reduction of service by Washington State Ferries. Only one boat has been active between the two cities since September of 2021 due to staffing shortages and issues stemming from the pandemic.

The need prompted multiple letters from officials in past months. 13 local and state officials, including Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu, signed a letter from Mayor Greg Wheeler of Bremerton to Gov. Jay Inslee Sept. 16. In the letter, Wheeler said the Kitsap ferry routes remained under heavy strains due to the cuts of service, inconveniencing the county as a result.

“We believe that the current level of WSF ferry service will not be able to support existing needs of the Bremerton community for an extended period,” he said. “Adding temporary Kitsap Transit passenger-only trips would add capacity, improve access, support livelihoods and assist in strengthening the local economy.”

Two months after sending its proposal and draft schedule to Olympia, KT announced Nov. 29 that an expanded schedule would start Dec. 1. As part of the agreement, funding to operate the extra runs between the cities would be reimbursed by the state. KT said that it will be able to conduct the added sailings with current staff and will not need to hire additional crew.

An extra seven roundtrips will be run on weekdays, three in the morning and four in the afternoon. The last ferry to depart Seattle on weekdays will set sail at 9:40 p.m., around two hours later than the current schedule. KT will also offer seven roundtrips on Saturdays, beginning at 10:50 a.m. from Bremerton and ending from Seattle at 8:30 p.m. Saturdays from October to April are typically not serviced by KT.

While the new service helps relieve some pressure, the race is still on to get back to two-boat vehicle service for WSF. Assistant secretary Patty Rubstello said restoration of full service is dependent on the number of licensed deck officers to complete training in early 2023.

“Restoring full service to all routes is WSF’s top priority,” she said, “and we are constantly looking for ways to accelerate service restoration and to make the best use of our crew and vessel resources.”

The wait may be longer, however, as other ferry routes are prioritized ahead of Bremerton. WSF said in a Nov. 22 update it planned to restore full service on the Kingston-Edmonds route in January, 2023, followed by attempting full three-boat service on the Southworth-Vashon Island-Fauntleroy route.

There is still a long road ahead for ferry travelers in Kitsap, but for public officials like Wheeler getting a response is a long-deserved win.

“I appreciate that our concerns about the hardships our residents were facing were heard at the highest levels of state government,” he said. “I’m proud that this effort is moving forward and will be serving the citizens of Bremerton and surrounding communities in the weeks and months to come.”

The expanded KT fast ferry service will likely run until spring of 2023, when full-service trial runs for the WSF route are expected to begin.