Port Townsend-Seattle ferry popular, but service will end Jan. 6

PORT TOWNSEND – The last ferry to Seattle will leave at 6:15 p.m. Jan. 6.

Washington State Ferries won’t make the run a permanent fixture. said Susan Harris-Huether, the agency’s customer information manager.

“The Seattle-Port Townsend route was put in service over the holidays to help alleviate some of the business loss in Port Townsend,” she said.

“Any permanent service changes need to come from the Legislature.”

And, she said, that isn’t likely.

“Given the funding issues, and the boat issues that the State Ferries have, there are other priorities,” Harris-Huether said.

The 149-passenger MV Snohomish began making round-trips between Port Townsend and Keystone on Whidbey Island on Nov. 25.

On Dec. 13, it was switched to make four round-trip runs daily between Port Townsend and Seattle.

State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond idled the four Steel Electric-class vehicle ferries on Nov. 20, citing safety concerns after extensive hull corrosion was discovered in one of the boats, the Quinault.

The 80-year-old Steel Electrics are the only car ferries in the state ferries system that can negotiate the narrow, shallow harbor at Keystone on Whidbey Island.

State ferries system officials will lease the 50-vehicle MV Christine Anderson from Pierce County.

That boat is expected to start serving the Port Townsend-Keystone route “sometime in early 2008,” either in January or February, Harris-Huether said.

“We don’t have a specific date,” she said.

But, “the sooner the better as far as we’re concerned.”

The delay is because maintenance work is being done on the Christine Anderson now.

When that is finished, the ferry must have upgrades and modifications before it can be used on the Port Townsend-Keystone route.

A radar system and evacuation slides must be installed, as well as other upgrades for the often-rough waters between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island.

It’s unclear how long the upgrades will take.

For the time being, the Port Townsend-Keystone route is being served by Port Townsend-based Puget Sound Express’ passenger ferries from Hudson Point Marina, 227 Jackson St., a half-mile north of the Port Townsend ferry terminal.

Once the Port Townsend-Seattle route is discontinued, the Snohomish will take over the Port Townsend-Keystone route from the Port Townsend ferry terminal until the Christine Anderson is ready for service.

Until the end of the day on Jan. 6, the Snohomish will continue making four round trips a day between Port Townsend and Seattle.

The schedule is:

Leaving Port Townsend from the ferry terminal: 6:45 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 2:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.

Leaving Seattle from Pier 50 at Colman Dock: 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.

The ferry between Port Townsend and Seattle has been a hit, according to recent ridership figures from Washington State Ferries.

The passenger-only ferry run has been so popular that it filled to its permitted capacity and left people standing at the Port Townsend dock at least a couple of times, Harris-Huether said Saturday.

“I do know it happened Friday. I have not heard about today.”

She ascribed the high ridership on the 90-minute run to the holiday season, the run’s novelty and the cost of a round-trip: $6.70.

“It’s a very good price for a round trip to Seattle,” she said.

“I’ve talked to several people who thought it was a great way to spend the holidays.”

The MV Snohomish also made two runs at the end of the week with more passengers than it is allowed to carry, Harris-Huether said.

“We overloaded both Thursday and Friday on the second sailing out of Port Townsend,” at 10:30 a.m., she said.

The Snohomish has 350 seats, but it isn’t permitted to carry more than 149 passengers.

The Coast Guard requires that a ferry that carries 150 or more passengers must have voluminous safety and security plans written for it, Harris-Huether said.

“Writing a temporary plan would take longer than the route will run,” she explained.

On the first five days of the Port Townsend-Seattle route – Thursday, Dec. 13 through Monday, Dec. 17 – the Snohomish moved a total of 1,543 passengers, according to the state ferries system count.

Of those, 780 were leaving Port Townsend and 763 were leaving Seattle.

Its highest count during that time was 686 passengers on Dec. 16, a Sunday, the last day that the state ferries system offered free rides instead of charging the present $6.70 for a round trip.

But on this past Thursday and Friday, the run nearly equaled that initial five-day total.

The ferry’s Seattle to Port Townsend run attracted 713 passengers: 289 on Thursday and 424 on Friday.

The ferry’s Port Townsend to Seattle run attracted 679 passengers: 285 on Thursday and 394 on Friday.

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