The new Bremerton fast ferry started today, and it could change the game for Seattle real estate. The trip across the Puget Sound now takes just 28 minutes. Before the fast ferry, it took commuters 56 minutes (double the time) to get from Bremerton to Seattle. All of a sudden, a lot of new housing became viable.
This fast ferry isn’t new—it’s just better. Washington State Ferries ran a passenger-only ferry on the same route from 1998 to 2003, with 800,000 annual passengers. However, the ferry wake eroded shorelines along its route, so the state mandated slower speeds. Passengers didn’t like the longer commute (understandably), and the number of passengers dropped. Soon after, the ferry was cancelled. This new fast ferry features a high-tech, catamaran style and a foil, and the design eliminates virtually all wake. No eroding shorelines, and lots of speed.
Before we get into the real estate implications of the fast ferry, first, a few facts to clear up some general fast ferry questions:
(Q1) How big is it?
(A1) This ferry has 118 seats, 12 bicycle racks, and 4 mobility device tie-down locations. For now, it follows the schedule below, but looking forward, Kitsap Transit plans to increase the number of trips and the number of vessels.
(Q2) Who’s paying for it?
(A2) It’s a group effort. The $48 million start-up costs were covered by a combination of grants (56%) and a 0.3% sales tax in Kitsap County (44%). Now that the fast ferry is up and running, its $11 million annual maintenance will be paid for by a combination of fares (28%) and that same 0.3% Kitsap County sales tax (72%).
(Q3) What’s the pricetag?
(A3) Relatively, it’s dirt cheap. The fast ferry startup costs totaled $48.4 million, which sounds like a lot, until you consider the cost of the second Tacoma Narrow Bridge ($827.3 million), the University Link light rail ($1.9 billion), or the new 520 bridge ($4.56 billion). The fast ferry is about 1% of cost of the new 520 bridge.
(Q4) How much is a fare?
(A4) For the month of July, fast ferry service is free. After commuters test it out and the fast ferry settles into a routine, normal fare prices will begin. A westbound trip from Seattle to Bremerton will cost $10, and an eastbound a trip from Bremerton to Seattle will cost $2. Monthly passes and low-income discounts are available, and 75 percent of the seats on the weekday sailings can be reserved. The rest of the weekday seats and all of the weekend seats are available for walk-ups. Bonus good news: you can pay with your ORCA card.
So, how will this new fast ferry affect real estate? No one knows for sure, of course, but here are the clues we do know:
- The median home price in Bremerton is more than $400,000 cheaper than it is in Seattle. Will it stay that cheap? Certainly not.
- Seattle’s public transportation is limited, especially before ST3 kicks in, so although a fast ferry can get you downtown in a brisk 28 minutes, commuters will still need to find a way to their workplace.
- Bremerton, along with the rest of Kitsap County, has a different demographic than Seattle. More rural, more conservative, and more blue-collar. In some areas, there’s even some resentment toward Seattle and Seattleites. That can change, but the first Seattleites who relocate will face a different environment than the one they’re used to.
- Kingston and Southworth are expected to receive similar fast ferry service in the next few years. Housing in both places is also much more affordable than housing in Seattle.
For more information about Bremerton, KUOW has been running a fantastic series about the area. And, of course, you can always talk to me. I’d be happy to hear about your specific situation and make some recommendations!