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.”