Confessions of a ferry-o-phile | FerryFare

For me, a Kingston foot ferry would be like winning the lottery after buying tickets for a decade and half.

For me, a Kingston foot ferry would be like winning the lottery after buying tickets for a decade and half.


  1. I miss going to Seattle now that car fares have become so … unfair.
  2. Our downtown’s struggling.
  3. Kingston’s graying and we Boomers need Gen X’ers, and Millennials to take charge, go to the meetings, set up Tiny Town, etc.

The objections

I’ve heard three objections to a passenger ferry:  It would spur development and most of us live here “because it’s not Silverdale.” The sales tax will benefit relatively few people. Previous ferries failed, so why will this succeed?

Kingston renewal

When I moved here 25 years ago, Kingston was growing. With the 2008 recession, local jobs dwindled and families moved away for work. Without growth, new stores at George’s Corners sucked away the customers from downtown.

Today, with a new high school, the Village Green, and affordable housing ready to go, we’re a great place for families. Add direct ferry access to Seattle jobs and we’re set to restore vitality to our community and our downtown.

Will growth change Kingston’s character? I think for the better, though there’s surely risk. Our new Kingston Area Plan gives us a voice to control development and preserve community values. New ferry or not, to preserve our community we’ll need to get involved.

Useful value

What about paying a 0.3 percent sales tax for an average of 83 Kingston riders per round trip? It helps to think of the current situation. How often do we see 83 riders on a bus

from Kingston? Other than commuters going to and from Bainbridge, I seldom see more than one or two on a Kingston bus. Nor are there buses going to Hansville.

So for me, passenger ferry service gives me value that I can actually use from the transit taxes that we’re already paying.

A ferry community

Ferries have been transformational here. In 1919, the Port of Kingston was set up to maintain a dock for the Mosquito Fleet.  With steamers running between Kingston, Seattle, Ballard, Port Gamble, and towns along the Hood Canal, Kingston prospered as a freight and passenger hub.

In 1951, when the state took over the ferry business, the Mosquito Fleet faded away. Kingston went from being a hub to being a highway stop … the “Gateway to the Olympics.”

In the late 1990s, WSF started passenger ferry service. Kingston again had the prospect of becoming a destination. That service lasted for just one demonstration run as the Legislature decided to drop all passenger ferry funding.

In 2005, a consortium took up the “Aqua Express” service for 10 months. They set up a working infrastructure, but it was a high cost and not profitable. Nationwide, passenger ferry fares recover about a third of costs while bus fares recover about half that.

In 2010, the port started up SoundRunner. The port focused on a reliable, low- cost operation. While hitting industry benchmarks after a year, with only 4,000 residents, the port didn’t have the cash or tax revenue to provide runs needed over the years it would take to build a sustainable rider base.

We’ve proved that a Kingston ferry will work, and Kitsap Transit, with 254,000 residents, has the deeper pockets needed to complete the job.

Course to the future?

Each attempt to establish a passenger-only ferry service has been an investment in the next. With Kitsap Transit’s proposal, we’ll be getting the payoff from more than a decade of community effort and public investment.

Today, Kingston’s treading economic water. Just as the building of a ferry dock in 1919 transformed Kingston, a passenger ferry today offers that same opportunity.

— Walt Elliott is chairman of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee and a member of the Kingston Port Commission. Contact him at