King County Water Taxi

King County Water Taxi

MV Sally Fox on the Vashon route
Locale King County, Washington
Waterway Puget Sound
Transit type Water taxi
Owner King County
Operator King County Department of Transportation Marine Division
System length Vashon Island: 10 miles
West Seattle: 2 miles
No. of lines 2
No. of vessels 3
No. of terminals 3
Daily ridership 467,119 (annual, 2014)[1]
Website King County Water Taxi

The King County Water Taxi is a passenger-only fast ferry service operated by the King County Department of Transportation Marine Division. It operates two routes, West Seattle/Downtown Seattle and Vashon Island/Downtown Seattle.[2]


West Seattle/Downtown Seattle

The West Seattle/Downtown Seattle route crosses Elliott Bay between Pier 50 on the downtown Seattle waterfront and Seacrest Park in West Seattle. The ferry's crossing time is approximately ten minutes during weekday commute hours and approximately 15 minutes at all other times.[3] As of January 2016, the primary ferry for the route is the MV Doc Maynard.

Year round the ferry operates weekdays during the peak commuting hours,[3] carrying an average of 1,742 passengers during the commute hours in December 2014. [4] During the peak season, from early April to late October the water taxi schedule expands to operate all day, seven days a week with extended hours on Friday, Saturday and when the Mariners, Sounders, or Seahawks play night games.[5] Service operates on holidays during the peak season (April-October) but not during the winter season.

King County Metro operates two shuttle bus routes that take passengers to and from the dock at Seacrest Park. Route 773 connects to the West Seattle Junction and route 775 connects to the Admiral District and Alki Beach.

Vashon Island/Downtown Seattle

The Vashon Island/Downtown Seattle route operates commuter service between Pier 50 on the downtown Seattle waterfront and Vashon Island. There are six sailings in either direction every weekday, three for the morning commute and three for the evening commute. Each crossing takes approximately 22 minutes.[2] As of mid 2015, the primary ferry for the route is MV Sally Fox, which carries an average of 400 passengers per day in each direction.

At the Vashon Island Ferry Terminal, connecting services include King County Metro bus routes 118 and 119 and Washington State Ferries with routes to both the city of Southworth in Kitsap County and the Fauntleroy terminal in West Seattle.


As of March 1, 2016 the one-way fares for the King County Water Taxi are:[6][7]

Fare type West Seattle Vashon Island
Adult Cash or TVM Ticket $5.25 $6.25
ORCA $4.50 $5.25
Senior (65+) / Disabled / Medicare
(Regional Reduced Fare Permit required)
$2.25 $2.75
Low income
(ORCA LIFT card required)
$3.50 $4.00
(ORCA Youth card required)
$3.50 $4.00
(0–5 years)
Free Free

Crew members accept ORCA with a hand-held card reader, or passengers can pay with cash (no change given) or a pre-purchased tickets at the farebox on the vessel.[3] Tickets can be purchased with credit or debit cards at vending machines located at each water taxi terminal.


Early Ferries of Puget Sound

West Seattle is the oldest neighborhood [8] and the birthplace of the city of Seattle. It is surrounded on three sides by water and has both enjoyed and suffered its isolation from the "mainland" of downtown Seattle.

Between 1850 and 1930, hundreds of small, steam-powered ferries called the Mosquito Fleet[9] of steam powered boats carried travelers to and from numerous islands and peninsulas in the Puget Sound area, including West Seattle and Vashon Island.

The first licensed ferry in the Seattle area[10] launched on December 24, 1888, traveled from Seacrest Park in West Seattle to downtown Seattle, as well as other water-bound location throughout the Puget Sound. It was a steam-powered sidewheel ship named the City of Seattle and made two trips a day, carrying West Seattle homesteaders east to the city, and weekend vacationers west to the beachfront.[11] The service was discontinued when the first bridge across the Duwamish River was built.

Over on Vashon Island, the passenger-only ferries were discontinued as the Mosquito Fleet faced increasing competition from the diesel-powered auto ferries. Vashon Island residents could now drive their vehicles onto a ferry to the Fauntleroy terminal in West Seattle.

Over time, a succession of bridges was installed to connect the West Seattle peninsula to downtown proper, beginning with the old wood-and-rail Spokane Street bridge in 1920. In 1970, calls for a modern solution brought attention to the growing problem of commuting to downtown; in 1978, the freighter ship Chavez crashed into the lower bridge[12] spurring the city to build the high-level West Seattle Bridge and the low-level Spokane Street Bridge that are still the primary paths into and out of peninsula today. As West Seattle has grown in popularity, travel in and out of the peninsula has become more congested.

Elliott Bay Water Taxi

The Sightseer served as the original Elliott Bay Water Taxi.

The Elliott Bay Water Taxi started service in 1998 as a pilot project to give commuters an alternative to the congested West Seattle Bridge and Highway 99. The Water Taxi was operated by King County Metro and only ran between April and October. King County leased the M/V Sightseer from Argosy Cruises to operate the service. The vessel was only capable of traveling 8 knots, but the slow speeds proved popular with both commuters and tourists. The ferry quickly became a popular tourist attraction due to beautiful view as the vessel crosses Elliot Bay, the short walk to Alki Beach and the restaurants in West Seattle.[13]

Vashon Passenger Only Ferry

The passenger-only ferry service between Vashon Island and Downtown Seattle started as a service of the Washington State Ferries in the early 1990's. The ferries proved popular with commuters as they offered a much faster connection to downtown Seattle than the alternative of taking the auto ferry to Fauntleroy and driving or taking transit to downtown.[14] In 2006, the state legislature ordered Washington State Ferries to discontinue all passenger only ferry services, but simultaneously enabled local authorities to form Ferry Districts with tax-collecting authority. The last run operated by the Washington State Ferries vessels came in September 2009.

King County Ferry District

In April 2007 the county formed the special-purpose King County Ferry District to take over operations of both the West Seattle and Vashon Island passenger-only ferries. The district is funded through a property tax levied on all property in the county.[15] The ferry district took over operation of the West Seattle/Downtown Seattle route from King County Metro on April 27, 2008.[16]

King County Water Taxi at Seattle's Pier 50

In April 2009, the West Seattle route was renamed from the Elliott Bay Water Taxi to the King County Water Taxi.[17] Later that year, on September 28, 2009, the Vashon Island/Downtown Seattle route was transferred from Washington State Ferries and became the second King County Water Taxi Route.[18] King County Ferry District leased the catamaran MV Melissa Ann from Four Seasons Marine Services to operate the Vashon Island route. In addition to being more stable, the catamaran was also faster than the ships operated by the Washington State Ferries reducing travel time from 30 to 22 minutes.[18]

In April 2010, the West Seattle route began operating year-round service from a newly rebuilt dock at Seacrest Park that allowed for wheelchair access.[3] At the same time the West Seattle route started operating with the catamaran MV Rachel Marie (a sister ship of the Melissa Ann), also leased from Four Seasons Marine Services. The leased Sightseer was returned to Argosy Cruises.[19]

In March 2013, the District added a third vessel to its fleet by acquiring the MV Spirit of Kingston that had been previously used on the failed SoundRunner ferry between Kingston and Downtown Seattle. The Spirit of Kingston is the first vessel to be owned by the ferry district. It was assigned to the West Seattle route[20] where it's smaller size, and more efficient engines proved a better fit than the Rachel Marie. The new vessel allowed the Rachel Marie to serve as a backup, saving the district on rental and lease expenses.

In 2014, the district received federal grants that allowed it to purchase two ships specifically designed for the needs of the King County Water Taxi.

King County Department of Transportation

In late 2014 the King County Council (made up of the same members as the King County Ferry District) voted to assume governance of the King County Ferry District. The consolidation of the district into county government saves money by eliminating redundant functions.[21]

As of January 1, 2015, the King County Ferry District ceased to exist, and the King County Water Taxi became a service of the Marine Division of the King County Department of Transportation.

December 2014 saw the arrival of the first new vessel for the King County Water Taxi, the MV Sally Fox. After undergoing tests, the new ferry was placed into service on the Vashon Island/Downtown Seattle route on April 8, 2015.[22] The addition of the Sally Fox to the fleet allowed the leased Rachel Marie to be returned to Four Seasons Marine Services in December 2014.

The second new vessel, the MV Doc Maynard was delivered in October 2015 and after modifications were made to the dock at Seacrest Park, the new ship began service on the West Seattle/Downtown Seattle route on January 7, 2016.[23] The arrival of the Doc Maynard allowed the Spirit of Kingston to become the backup ship for King County and allowed the leased Melissa Ann to be returned to Four Seasons Marine Services in November 2015.



Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elliott Bay Water Taxi.
  1. King County Ferry District (February 27, 2015). "2014 King County Water Taxi Facts and Figures". Retrieved March 2, 2015.
  2. 1 2 "Water Taxi". King County. Retrieved April 4, 2010.
  3. 1 2 3 4 King County Metro information page on Elliott Bay Water Taxi
  4. West Seattle—Average daily commute, King County Marine Division
  5. "West Seattle/Downtown Seattle Sailing schedule". King County Department of Transportation. March 26, 2010. Retrieved April 4, 2010.
  6. "West Seattle Route - Fares". King County. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  7. "Vashon Route - Fares". King County. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  8. "West Seattle History".
  9. "Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet".
  10. "West Seattle Ferry".
  11. Alki Beach History
  12. "West Seattle Bridge Chavez accident". Bridgepros.
  13. Amy Kate Horn (April 25, 2007), "The Poor Man's Yacht", The Stranger, retrieved October 15, 2013
  14. "Puget Sound Regional Passenger-Only Ferry Study — Executive Summary" (PDF). Puget Sound Regional Council. November 2008. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  15. "OPINION: Passenger Ferries: A mobility solution", Seattle Times November 29, 2007 (accessed May 31, 2008)
  16. Wong, Brad (April 27, 2008). "Seattle's water taxi returns with a splash". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  17. King County Water Taxi Fact Sheet
  18. 1 2 "Catamaran replaces Vashon-Seattle foot ferry". Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber. September 16, 2009. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  19. "Fleet". Argosy Cruises. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  20. Spirit of Kingston now part of water taxi fleet, West Seattle Herald, March 18, 2013, retrieved April 5, 2013
  21. Record, Tracy (November 9, 2014). "First-ever 'strategic plan' in place, to steer King County Water Taxi service's future". West Seattle Blog. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  22. "King County Water Taxi News" (WINTER 2015). King County Water Taxi. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  23. Whitaker, Denise (January 7, 2016). "New water taxi on Elliott Bay, gears up for viaduct closure". KOMO 4 News. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
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