By Gerald Patriarca
The ship to Seattle has sailed.
Serving as an alternative to driving, the Fast Ferry pilot project – which started Aug. 10 and ended Oct. 9, 2022 – shuttled passengers from the Des Moines Marina to Downtown Seattle’s Bell Harbor Marina on the Chilkat Express, a passenger-only ferry run by Puget Sound Express.
It cruises at over 30 knots, said Des Moines Mayor Matt Mahoney. “You make all the other watercraft look like they’re standing still.”
Aside from taking cars off the road, the vessel offered drinks, snacks and Wi-Fi to passengers on their 40-minute voyage to and from The Emerald City.
“It’s been spectacularly successful,” said Peter Philips, a consultant for the project. “Businesses in the Des Moines central business district have seen an uptick in business they attribute directly to the ferry service, which is what we had hoped for, but not anticipated as being this great.”
Mahoney agreed with Philips about the program’s success. In the eight weeks the service was active, Mahoney said the vessel was “booked solid.”
To fund the Fast Ferry, Mahoney said “we used a one-time tax. It was more to just gauge the interest and experiment.”
City Councilmember Gene Achziger wasn’t in agreement with this trial. Achziger said that while he’s not against the ferry project, he questions whether it’s sustainable.
“Who wouldn’t love a free ferry ride,” Achziger asked, pertaining to the start of the Chilkat Express’ pilot project. “I’m not opposed to the ferry, but this test is not telling us anything.”
Achziger, a former journalism instructor at Highline College, said there is no indication whether this ferry is designed to be a commuter route, or is aimed at tourism. “We don’t even know what we’re measuring,” he said.
Councilmember JC Harris agreed with Achziger’s skepticism. “We’re this little town playing with real money,” Harris said.
On Harris’ website, he references a summary from the City of Des Moines, with a project estimate on the two-month operation of the Chilkat Express, showing a total cost of $470,263.
“We’re using one-time money from a fund never meant for ongoing expenses,” Harris wrote. “So, we’re robbing from other, proper purposes. And if we do continue, we have no ongoing way to pay for it without robbing from core functions or following the same bad practices as previous administrations.”
Mahoney pointed out the added business to the community – the positive public relations and the positive experience.
“You’re always going to have difference of opinion on council,” Mahoney said. “[Harris is] vocal. He’s been the opponent to this thing. He doesn’t look at it the same way we do.”
At least one business in the area is enjoying the added foot traffic. Renia Papadimas works at the Quarterdeck and said she’s seen an uptick in business.
“I see a lot of people coming in, right before the ferry takes off,” she said. “We get a nice little rush.”
The City of Des Moines is going to be dramatically different over the next five years, Mahoney added.
“We look a little like 1962 right now,” he said. “We’re not trying to develop a town for 2020, we’re trying to develop it for 2070.”
Some of the plans include putting in an adaptive purpose building, adding a splash park for kids, and constructing a new hotel.
In the meantime, Mahoney said he hopes the ferry will be back in the Spring. There’s a strong possibility the ferry will return by Mother’s Day, with Mahoney hoping to secure state funding to expand the route to Tacoma in the future.
Rear our previous coverage of the Fast Ferry project here.
Gerald Patriarca has a BA in Communication from Seattle Pacific University with a background in journalism. He has written articles for his high school and college newspaper, spent time as an intern at KING 5 and KOMO 4 and worked at The Seattle Times. Aside from writing, Gerald, his wife Alma, and their son James own JAG’s Auto Detail in Tukwila. To schedule an appointment and for more information, please visit jagsautodetail.com.