As any West Seattle-dweller can tell you, the Water Taxi is the best public transit commute leg in the region. You sit on the deck and watch the skyline recede as you speed home across Elliott Bay. Unfortunately the taxi is also a money loser, which leads to regular calls to kill service. This week Michael Ennis of the pro-privatization Washington Policy Center has been on a crusade to get the county to turn operations back over to a private company (until this year, Argosy operated the taxi). Standing in his and other naysayers' way is interim County Councilmember/taxi defender Jan Drago.
Here's who landed the best blows this week:Water Taxi Naysayers:
* King County sucks at running the water taxi. Ennis produced a report (pdf) earlier this year claiming that Argosy operated the mini-ferry for $115,000 per month. King County is doing it for $339,000 per month, largely thanks to an increase in labor costs. "It seems to me that the purpose of a ferry system is to move people from point A to point B for the cheapest cost possible," Ennis told Kiro 7.
* The water taxi is a financial sink hole. The taxi only recovers 15 to 17 percent of its operating costs from paid fares. That figure isn't helped any by sticky-fingered employees dipping into the cash fare boxes.
* It's barely used. King County Department of Transportation Marine Director Scott Davis told attendees at a West Seattle forum on Wednesday that ridership is down 40 percent this spring, according to West Seattle Blog.
* Lies, damned lies, and statistics. In a Seattle Times op-ed yesterday, Drago claims that Ennis' numbers leave out important figures. For instance, the county has been running two shuttles from West Seattle to the taxi terminal for several years. Drago says Ennis includes the shuttles in his cost estimate for this year, but didn't include them in the overall cost of the boats when Argosy was operating them. It really only costs $21,000 more per month to run the thing, she says.
* It's sooo fun! At that same forum where Davis said ridership is down, most of the people in the audience declared themselves "big fans" of the water taxi. The weather this spring has been awful, but give us a few sunny days and Westsiders will all pile back on the boat.
It's very hard to argue that the water taxi is an efficient mode of transportation rather than a giant suck on the county's struggling finances. Odds are 10 - 1 that anyone looking at the taxi on paper will want to unload it on a private company or stop service altogether. But take policy makers for a ride on the top deck on a sunny afternoon and only someone completely out of touch with their sense of child-like wonder would vote to rid the county of the thing.