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Yesterday I the opportunity to chat with Kitsap Transit Executive Director John Clauson and get some updates on the Southworth and Bremerton Fast Ferries.

Southworth

Southworth service is scheduled to begin in 2020. I asked John if he had more specific timing. He said this is still on track but to expect for “latter 2020”.

As for planned schedule, this will be a 1 boat service, similar to how the Kingston Fast Ferry operates today. Since the new route will be sharing a slip in Southworth, the schedule will have to work around the existing Triangle Route that operates between Southworth, Vashon and Fauntleroy. John indicated that a sharing agreement is yet to be worked out but there have been regular conversations with WSF. His sense was that WSF is relatively happy with the latest schedule, which started March 31, 2019 so he doesn’t anticipate they’ll make more than 5 minute adjustments to how this stands today.

On the Seattle side, things are a bit trickier. The passenger ferry dock that is currently operating north of the car ferry dock will soon move to the south side after construction of the new ferry terminal is complete. WSF will then lease the passenger ferry dock from King County. Kitsap Transit is currently negotiating a shared use agreement with King County for this new dock. The dock is designed to operate 2 passenger ferries and will need to accommodate Kingston, Bremerton, Southworth Kitsap Transit Fast Ferries, in addition to the King County Water Taxis that operate to Vashon and West Seattle.

As for vessels, it sounds like things are mostly on track with Kitsap Transit taking delivery of the new bow loader style vessels, MV Enetai and Manette to be delivered mid 2020. This will then go through sea trials and crew training. John didn’t express much concern over the trials and indicated the training to take about 30 days.

As for the Southworth slip, it sounds like there is some interest in building out a 2nd slip on the Southworth side. This would add scheduling flexibility and redundancy in case a vessel breaks down at dock. However, this is still in the exploration phase and not planned for service start in 2020.

Community involvement will look very similar to how they rolled out Kingston. Schedule flexibility is so limited he didn’t think this topic would be put out to the community for feedback.

Parking and route bus changes on the Southworth side are yet to be worked out but he the team has recently started kicking off some of these tactical considerations. I did ask him if there had been any discussion with Pierce Transit about routed bus connections. he said he has been in conversations with their CEO, Sue Dryer, on this very topic and there is interest from Pierce Transit on a potential connection from the Purdy Park & Ride, Pierce County’s closest Park & Ride to the Kitsap County line.

Bremerton

Bremerton recently received and put a 2nd vessel into service, the M/V Reliance. This was the 2nd low wake catamaran to serve the Bremerton route and relieves the Rich Passage I to serve as the backup boat. According to John, Kitsap Transit expects delivery of the 3rd vessel, Lady Swift, in the latter part of July. This was expected earlier (July 10th) but they asked for additional insulation to be applied between the passenger and mechanical cabins, which resulted in additional wake studies. Sea trials are expected to go relatively quickly on this one since this is essentially a carbon copy of the Reliance.

Once this vessel is operational, the RP1 can be dry docked. John says this will take about 2 weeks but no more than 30 days. Once this service is complete, Kitsap Transit will begin promoting the 2 boat schedule. John reluctantly estimated a September timeframe on this. Once the 2 boat schedule begins, a 4 week “scientific study” of potential erosion impact can begin. There is some time sensitivity to completing these 4 weeks of a Monday through Saturday schedule prior to winter both due to the winter schedule and weather considerations. Positive results from the study could result in added sailings even beyond the planed two boat schedule.

I also asked about a recent loading procedure change that passengers have noticed. There are 118 seats on the Bremerton Fast Ferry today and 88 of those are held for reservation holders. Up until last week, reservation holders were also first to board. Walk-ons would then follow. Last week passengers noticed a new procedure where the first 30 walk-ons were boarded before the reservation holders. According to John, this is something Kitsap Transit is trying out because it may yield faster boarding time. I asked if he had data back on this yet but he indicated he hasn’t yet received it.

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The devil you know, is better than the one you don’t as the saying goes. After one year of mega-commuting and trying out every which way, I’m beginning to settle into my favorites. There’s a certain beauty in this. I don’t pour over timetables with my morning coffee. I don’t run. I don’t dwell at transfers too long. I’ve tried ferries, fast ferries, foot ferries, water taxis, bikes, buses, carpools, vanpools, work shuttles, run commutes and more.

When my office location moved further east on I-90, my already long mega-commute got even longer and I had to re-work my strategy. Some days I would see my previous 1:45-2 hr. commute stretch up to 2:30. Yikes.

Now I’m going Sounder/vanpool (probably technically called a vanshare). The majority of riders live somewhere along the south Sounder line but we all catch the same train and hop off together in Tukwila to fight our way north up I-405.

On good traffic days I’m now flirting with beating the 1:30 mark. I may just turn into a regular commuter after all! What I do know is that I’m now matching or beating my drive alone or even carpool time but I’m getting an hour of that time to myself to be productive and doing it for an extremely minimal cost.

I’ll probably return back to some more fun route adventuring this summer. In particular I’m hoping to work in more bike exercise. For now, I’m going to enjoy having this thing down for a little while.

One of my favorite parts of alternative commuting has been the people I meet. Not only does it pass the time to have a conversation with a stranger or regular commuting buddy, it can also serve practical purposes.

My vanpool continually looks out for each other when little hiccups happen. The Bremerton Fast Ferry group shares coveted reservations, onboards nervous new commuters, shares parking tips and more.

Eventually you also start being the expert. From the lady who slept through her Sounder stop or the blind person you help get on the correct bus. Being with other humans helps you build empathy and make the experience better for all.

Today was “Take your child to work day” and this was about the most precious sight to start my day. He also called out the “all aboard” and received an all train ovation. Another day the train attendant brought in coffee and doughnuts for the riders.

My stories of other great human connections are constant and daily but one of the big reasons why I prefer this over driving alone.

I’m part of multiple Facebook groups to keep tabs on news and discussion for my different commute options. Recently a Jason Alferness posted to the Southworth Ferry Commuter Group that he was offering up his co-pilot seat on a commute flight he was doing from Bremerton to Boeing Field. I was intrigued so I asked him for an interview.

Jason_aerocommuter.jpg

What made you want to “aero-commute”?

I always just wanted to fly. I had a good friend bring me with on a flight and the rest is history… I had to do it. Getting through the process of learning to fly does take some considerable determination and time. The Aero-commute is mostly just a way to mix up my commute and make it more interesting. I don’t save time or money vs my normal commute… in fact all things together it probably takes me longer and it certainly does cost me more more (especially if I add in ground commute costs in Seattle). But it’s far more beautiful and more interesting — The daily grind is boring enough, so anything I can do to keep it fun is good by me!

How long have you been a pilot? How many hours/experience?

I got my license in 2016, MANY years after I first dreamed about it.  Never took a step toward making it happen til about a year before that.  I have about 300 command flight hours, pretty much exclusively in small single engine planes, though I have a few hours in powered hang gliders and the like.
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What made you want to become a pilot?
I have wanted to fly since I was a kid.  It got forgotten for many years while life happened, then one day a pilot friend was kind enough to help me realize that if I was going to do this NOW is the time or I may never do it and that further I realized it could be done by interested people of ordinary financial means (of which I am).  There’s nothing like the freedom and beauty of flying in the Pacific NW.  It’s a joy like no other.
Where else do you fly besides Boeing Field?
Anywhere local with a runway.  I’ve landed at many Washington, Oregon and Idaho airports and a few a bit further out.  Because of the size and speed of my plane, I don’t fly in or out of SeaTac (though it’s not impossible to do so), but other than that, I’ve been to many of the public airports in the area

However, my plane is of limited performance.  I cruise maybe 100mph ish, so while I’m going faster than a car and can go in a straight line, so I don’t usually fly far, since a jet will do 4-5x that.  A small single engine plane is no substitute for a jet and if I have to travel across the country.  People sometimes even ask for a flight to Hawaii or something… which is just not possible or sensible.

Walk me through how an “aero-commute” day goes.

Every flight begins with briefing important information about whether and flight restrictions online and/or on the phone.  Then if weather etc looks good we’ll drive or carpool to the airport.  (I’m based out of Bremerton National)… There’s a preflight period where you check over the plane (maybe 20 min or so), then a taxi, systems check and takeoff.  The actual flight is maybe 20 min in the air, wheels up to wheels down.  After landing at Boeing, I’ll either catch a bus or Lyft/Uber (depending on the days constraints) to work.  Reverse process in the afternoon…
How often do you do this?
During the nice part of the summer, maybe once every week or two… during the winter it’s far less frequent because weather is typically not as good.

It’s HIGHLY weather dependent and cannot be used as an everyday substitute for other commute options every day, so if you think you don’t have to drive or take the ferry anymore, that just isn’t the case.  Small planes have much greater limitations as far as what is safe to fly in than your average Alaska or United Airlines flight.  You can do things to increase the amount of time you can fly, but there will always be days when it’s best to stay on the ground.

How do you typically commute?
Carpool to the Ferry at Southworth, to Fauntleroy, and a vanpool from there to the U District.  Occasionally I’ll drive around.
The plane is the “I need some mix-it-up fun in my commute” fix or maybe if I am planning to go out of town that weekend, or I have an unusual daily schedule that day that requires flexibility, etc. Once every week or two when the weather is good.

How does the time and cost compare to how you commute typically?

It’s more expensive, but asking about the cost of the commute is like asking a salmon fisherman how much that salmon meal just cost him.  If he wants a low number, he says it’s free except for a sore casting arm… if he wants a high number, he adds the cost of the fishing gear, license, boat gas, etc.
Similarly, with flying… It’s maybe 20-30 bucks in gas alone (Aviation gas is more expensive than auto gas) but that’s very plane dependent.
However, I’m a partner in a plane, so I’m not adding buy in costs to the plane, plane maintenance, hangar rental fees, training costs, etc.  which do add up, but which I’ve already largely bitten the financial bullet of… Renting a plane costs ~150-170$/flight hour for a similarly equipped plane, but if you invest in your own plane and partner with others, you can significantly reduce the costs of ownership.  If I had to rent all my plane time, it would be a no-go for me for a lot of reasons.

So costs are a tough question to answer — But if you’re interested, you can find a way to do it.  Take the first step and start talking with people about ways to do it more economically if it’s breaking the bank.  Pilots love to help other pilots.

What does the Puget Sound look like from up above during the commuting hours?

Gorgeous!  Mountains, Water, Ferries, sometimes aircraft carriers or subs.  It’s can’t be beat!  But I sometimes am happy I’m not in the clog of I5 when I fly over it departing Boeing!

Plane in Sky.jpg

What types of flights do you see coming and going at Bremerton and Boeing fields? Any interesting stories?

Everything under the sun… Military flights (Apache and Chinook Helicopters, cargo and & fighters), Commercial flights, Corporate jets, helicopters… there’s a huge diversity.  We’ve flown in over the clouds of Blue Angels testing their smoke trail systems on the ground (thought maybe one of the hangars on the ground had caught fire until we saw the blue planes.   😉  )  Something new to see every day.

Finally, what should people know about aero-commuting?

If you have interest and time and are of an average income, flying is something you can probably do.  It has it’s costs for sure, but it’s affordable by normal people if you’re creative.  I used to believe it was a rich man’s/woman’s hobby only and that’s simply not the case.  In fact most of the pilots I know are of average means financially.  They’re just totally in love with flying and make it a priority.
The one thing I would say that is a non-negotiable is that it’s a big time commitment.  Training, staying current, etc all require a regular and non-negotiable time commitment.   It’s not something that you just do for awhile and come back to gain in 5 years… Think of it as a true lifestyle change, but one you’ll love.

It’s also a great community.  If you are interested, there’s always somebody willing to help you.  Generous, beautiful people from all walks of life.  You start by flying a plane and soon learn you’ve joined a family, whether you knew that when you started or not.

There are so many important commute improvement efforts underway that impact Kitsap and South Sound commuters so I compiled a  list as I know it now. Take this all with a grain of salt because these are always changing. This is likely not an complete list. if you see something I missed, please comment or email!

February 21, 2019 – 167/405 Flyover ramp opens

March 11, 2019New Kitsap Transit Routed Bus Updates

March 23, 2019 – Buses in Seattle transit tunnels move to surface/re-routed

April 2019 – New Triangle Route (Southworth/Vashon/Fauntleroy) goes into effect. This aligns the schedules for the Southworth/Vashon Ferry and Vashon Water Taxi.

Summer 2019? – Amtrak Cascades back to using the Pt. Defiance bypass and Tacoma Dome Station.

Summer 2019 – New Foot Ferry dock opens in Seattle

2019 – New Kitsap Transit routed bus schedules begin including #86, allowing for Port Orchard Out, Southworth in or vice versa

Late 2019/Early 2020 – Bremerton 2nd and 3rd boat go into operation (3rd boat delivery expected Aug’19 and then wake testing/crew training. Update: 2nd boat now delivered as of 4/9/19!

2020 – I-5/SR-16 HOV Interchange opens

2020 – Southworth Fast Ferry Service Begins

2021Eastside Rail Cooridor Opens

2022 – Hilltop Tacoma Link

2023 – Eastlink Light Rail Opens

2024 – Federal Way Link Light Rail Opens

2024 2 HOV/HOT Lanes + BRT on I405 Opens

2024 – HOV on 16 to I-5 North complete (including Olympic Dr. to Purdy HOV)

2032 – Tolls go away on Tacoma Narrows Bridge

2036 – Sounder South Expansion Projects Complete

2039 – TCC Link Opens

2041 – Issaquah/Kirkland Light Rail Opens (including Richards Rd. and Eastgate Stations)

 

I think I used almost all my commuting options this week:

  • Fast Ferry
  • WSF
  • Sounder
  • Carpool
  • Vanpool
  • Bus
  • Company Shuttle
  • Time Shift
  • Telecommute

Mixing it up definitely keeps it interesting. I’m waiting for the day I end up forgetting which way I came in and ending up in Tacoma with a car in Bremerton or vice versa. That won’t be a good day.

Even after doing this commute for over 6 months I’m still trying out new options. Sometimes this is hard and I learn a lesson the hard way like missing my foot ferry and fast ferry when I discovered no parking at the Annapolis foot ferry.

Other times I learn a new trick that works great and I can keep it up my sleeve.

Yesterday I had a late business dinner so having my car in Bellevue meant a 55 min commute(half my usual) if I could only get my car there without too much pain.

I’ve never driven onto the ferry in the AM for my morning commute. I figured it would be too competitive and I’d drive up to a full ferry and miss the ferry altogether. I decided to give it a go because I had to know.

I began keeping an eye on the Bremerton drive up availability status page. Every route has one. I decided 20 mins prior to sailing felt safe.

Much to my surprise it was a very pleasant experience. Got the car in line, enough time to grab a Starbucks at the terminal and easy traffic to Bellevue. I’ll definitely do it again in a similar circumstance.