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Des Moines to Seattle passenger ferry pilot starts next month

A view from above of a parking lot, waterfront buildings, two cranes and docks with water and an island in the distance.
Cara Kuhlman
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The Des Moines Marina on October 14, 2021. The expansion and remodel of the city's marina is one reason the passenger ferry pilot program has finally come to fruition, according to City Planner Michael Matthias.

For years, Des Moines, Washington, officials have considered offering a passenger ferry service. Next month, they’ll be one step closer to that vision.

In June, the Des Moines city council approved a two-month long pilot program that will offer roundtrip rides from Des Moines to Seattle. The city of 32,000 is approximately 15 miles south of Seattle, along the eastern shore of Puget Sound.

The pilot program will cost the city approximately half a million dollars. Starting August 10, Des Moines and South King County residents can take the ferry to Pier 66, just below Pike Place Market for $10 each way with discounted rates for seniors, active military and children. Fares will be waived during the first week.

“There's been discussions about ferry service, but it's only in this time period that they've actually come to fruition for a couple of reasons,” said City Planner Michael Matthias.

He said the momentum comes from multiple efforts, such as the expansion and remodel of the Des Moines Marina. There’s also been success with other transit options for commuters including a shuttle that takes people to and from the Angle Lake Link light rail station. Two more Link light rail stations are under construction near Pacific Highway, adjacent to the city.

The city contracted with Puget Sound Express, which will depart from Des Moines four times a day, Wednesday through Sunday. The high-speed Chilkat Express catamaran, most often used for whale watching tours, navigates at speeds up to 40 knots and the commute time for riders to Seattle will be around 40 minutes.

Matthias said it’s still too soon to know whether the program will be successful. A preliminary study found that of the 246,000 South King County residents who work in Seattle, nearly 65% would consider using a passenger ferry to get to work.

If successful, Peter Philips, a consultant for the city and a longtime maritime transit advocate, says the Des Moines Marina could become a midway point for ferry transit between Tacoma and Seattle, as it’s the only fully operational marina between the two metropolitan areas.

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the South Seattle Emerald, Crosscut and The Seattle Times.