While its ridership levels continue to increase with every passing year, the Elliott Bay Water Taxi remains more a cute leisure-time gimmick than a reliable>"/>
While its ridership levels continue to increase with every passing year, the Elliott Bay Water Taxi remains more a cute leisure-time gimmick than a reliable rush-hour transportation alternative. Even the Argosy-run ferry's biggest booster, King County Council member Dow Constantine, concedes this—yet he's not satisfied with the status quo.
By 2010, Constantine, the county council transportation committee chair who was instrumental in the county's recent seizure of passenger-ferry authority from the state, wants the water taxi to operate year-round as opposed to its present six-month run. Beyond that, he'd like it to move to a large, multi-use pier a la Colman Dock, and have boats departing every 15-20 minutes instead of their current 40-minute turnaround time.
"That's kind of the key to successful transit: not having to rely on a schedule," says Constantine, comparing his ideal to commuter rail in older metropolises like New York and Chicago.
A former state legislator who represents the whole of Vashon Island and West Seattle, as well as large slices of other Duwamish Peninsula communities, Constantine often finds himself a rather lonely political voice when it comes to garnering support for public transit for the quaint yet burgeoning area. But with an ironclad promise from Governor Gregoire to tear down the all-important Alaskan Way Viaduct by 2012 and the decrepit South Park Bridge in similar straits, the stakes have never been higher for southwesterly homesteaders. If alternative modes of transport (suck it, Sound Transit) are not in place in the next couple of years, a good number of Constantine's constituents will be all but marooned on their leafy peninsula.
So when he's asked what the county's new ferry district's priorities will be, water-taxi expansion clearly tops the list. But the county's envisioned mosquito fleet is, after all, a county-wide endeavor, which means that residents of Kirkland, Bellevue, Ballard, Des Moines, Renton, Montlake, and even Kenmore also stand to benefit from waterborne ingenuity.
"We planned it so we can roll out five demo projects," says Constantine of the potential intra-county fleet. "If those routes are successful, they could become permanent."
Constantine is a native West Seattleite who still lives across the street from his parents. He says that if West Seattle were to secede, as has been threatened at least half-seriously in decades past, he'd run for mayor in a heartbeat. "But I still don't think it's a good idea," he's careful to add. —Mike Seely