Washington State Ferries (WSF) is proposing to add 16 hybrid-electric vessels to its fleet as part of its 2040 Long Range Plan, retiring and replacing 13 of the 23 ships currently in operation.
The plan, submitted in January to the state Legislature, recommends short-, medium- and long-term actions to guide funding decisions as the ferry system adapts to changing conditions over the next two decades.
“There have been a lot of service disruptions because of the aging of the fleet,” said Hadley Rodero, communications manager for WSF. “Thirteen of the ferries will hit the 60-year mark soon. In addition to replacing those ferries, the proposal is to grow the fleet by three more to allow for maintenance time and to marginally add capacity to the fleet.”
Other recommendations include electrifying the fleet to reduce fuel use, emissions, noise and maintenance costs, and significant investment in terminal improvements, green technology and preparation for the effects of climate change and seismic events. The plan also calls for adding service hours, increasing capacity and enhancing the customer experience.
The estimated cost of the plan is $14.6 billion, with more than half covered by dedicated tax revenue and fare collection, which WSF expects will provide for nearly 80 percent of operating costs in 2040.
Operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation, WSF is the largest ferry system in the United States. Last year it carried nearly 25 million people — 34 times the population of Seattle — on more than 161,000 trips across Puget Sound and its inland waterways, an increase of nearly a quarter million passengers over 2017. The ferry system operates 10 routes and 20 terminals, and employs about 1,800 people.
Last year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee — who recently announced his intention to run for president in 2020 — issued Executive Order 18-01, directing the ferry system to move toward zero emissions. The fleet is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the transportation department, accounting for 67 percent of total emissions.
WSF recently began an effort to convert its three largest ferries — Puyallup, Tacoma and Wenatchee — from diesel to hybrid-electric power. The Jumbo Mark II-class ferries consume 26 percent of the fleet’s fuel and emit more than 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year. Battery technology is not yet viable for ocean crossings, but ferries, which are limited to localized routes, are a more obvious fit. All new ferries built under the 2040 Long Range Plan will be hybrid-electric.
More than 7,500 people participated in 32 public meetings to discuss the plan, which includes nearly 900 comments from passengers, state residents and other stakeholders.
The ferry system’s 23-vessel fleet comprises seven classes, from the 64-vehicle Kwa-di Tabil class to the 202-vehicle Jumbo Mark II.
In 2007, WSF contracted with Vigor to build four new 144-car Olympic-class ferries. If the Legislature approves funding for the Long Range Plan by the end of its current session, additional construction could begin immediately through an extension of that contract. The first five new ferries could hit the water between 2022 and 2028.