Pierce Transit solicits qualifications for foot-ferry service feasibility study

Kitsap Transit’s Kitsap Fast Ferries transporting commuters between Bremerton and Seattle was the inspiration for Tacoma Councilmember Ryan Mello’s idea. Since last July, Kitsap Transit has transported more than 153,000 riders. Photo courtesy of Kitsap Transit

Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello’s pitch last fall to introduce a foot-ferry service to transport commuters from Tacoma to Seattle and other points north is finally gaining some speed.

Pierce Transit, lead project manager, issued a request for qualifications on Feb. 22, asking for consultants to submit their knowledge and experience of conducting a feasibility study that would identify the feasibility of a foot-ferry service. Deadline for applicants is 5 p.m. on March 27. The Pierce Transit Board of Directors will then have up to 120 days after the deadline to vote whether to authorize funds to move forward with the study, in conjunction with other agency partners, and award a contract to a consultant or consultants.

“Our board has not yet agreed to fund this study,” said Rebecca Japhet, communications manager for Pierce Transit. “Our board has agreed to move forward with the RFQ.”

City of Tacoma has agreed to be a funding partner on the study. Pierce Transit has approached Port of Tacoma to be a funding partner, but the Port has not yet agreed.

Japhet said the scope of study would include looking at the current state of marine passenger technology and what technology would be best for this service; looking at the competitiveness of a foot-ferry service compared to ground-based transportation; potential sources of funding; who would operate the service; marine port facilities and where the ferry would dock at both ends; and considerations of current and future market conditions.

“If the funding is approved and we award and all of our partners approve the funding as well, then the study would begin,” Japhet said. “The contract term would run through Sept. 30, so we would hope to have results before the end of the year.”

Observing the success of Kitsap Transit’s foot-ferry system between Bremerton and Seattle and the economic development implications resulting from that served as inspiration for Mello to suggest the idea.

“With water transportation, you don’t have to purchase right-of-way, unlike light rail and road transportation,” Mello said. “It reduces costs, and you can often deliver the service quicker because you don’t have to purchase and build right-of-way. This is adding a transportation mode, not replacing one.”

Mello said it’s in the spirit of redundancy that is motivating him to suggest this idea.

“The water provides a redundancy of transportation modes,” Mello said. “Light rail and bus is important, but this system would take you to other parts of the region. It would get you to another part of the region that bus or light rail couldn’t.”

Mello said this is a long-term project, and certainly there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. But he is confident that it’s doable.

“I’m hearing nothing but excitement (about the idea),” Mello said. “I’m hearing from people who commute both ways, and say that they would love to come that way. This is the most unsolicited organic feedback I’ve gotten on any project I’ve worked on in public life.”

Subscribe to our newsletter

To stay updated with all the latest news, and offers.


  1. We sooo need this with all the traffic congestion on I-5 , bringing commerce, and diversity dialogue, seniors being able to get away for a day for a quality of life many have no families here , please bring this to our area.

    • Or… we coild have competent regional and state government leaders who invest in the best broad interests of the residents of this region; rather than quiver, delay, serve narrow economic interests of real estate speculators, and espouse feeble laissez-faire fantasies.

  2. It’s a joy to think we may be coming full circle to have a new “mosquito fleet” from the past. The original pilings at Titlow remain. Encourage you to move full speed ahead! Two other old proposals worth pursuing: lights on the bridge and tidal power.

    • Private companies have a horrible track record of addressing public needs. Private companies ate motivated by shareholder profit; not societal interest. Private companies excel at addressing needs when there is a relatively near term financal profit motive. When the case for investment is based in social need, long term societal needs, countering social threats; private companies are ill-equipped, slow, and tend to create solutions that drive profit att the expense of the broader goal. You might recognize that the private sector has a secondary role in addressing ceime, national security, health care, transportaion, and other socially necessary functions. These industries are led, funded, and driven by public enterprise; not private enterprise. To naysay that is to reveal a fundamental musunderstanding (which is a common American trait and something that idealogue politicians prey upon) of the economics of those vital industries.

  3. This is ridiculously overdue. It is an embarassment that the state can fund road transportation – which is dangerous, impractical, polluting, and in many other ways inherently archaic. Tacoma – like Baltimore and many other fine cities – is a second city. Tacoma will not be a city equivalent of Seattle in the lifetimes of any living adult or that of their children. The region will grow and people in Tacoma will want to get to Seattle. Increasingly, people living in Seattle will work in nearby towns and cities – like Tacoma. Restricting reasonable transportaion simply retards smart regional growth; encourages senseless low density sprawl, imcreases pollution, increases the cost of living for working people, and frustrates business. The only people served by the absence of extensive watwr transportation between the various towns and cities in our region are: real estate speculators, parochial politicians who cheerlead for theor town instead of lead- selling a dream‘ of urban equivaliency to the uninformed, and idealogs who espouse laissez-faire myths about the supremecy of private interests in addressing public needs at the expense of meeting those needs.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.