Seattle anchors future Renton water taxi

SECO leaders tell state they are ready to implement new ferries

Southport developers still want to start a private water taxi running from Renton to South Lake Union, but the company needs an approved landing point in the city of Seattle.

SECO senior vice president of planning and development Rocale Timmons spoke to the Washington State Transportation Commission about what the next steps are for the possible bridge between Renton and the hub of tech companies in Seattle. At the July 16 meeting, Timmons told the commission the feasibility study and construction of three water taxis is expected to be done by 2021, but it’s contingent upon approval of a landing point at Lake Union Park in Seattle. It was originally hoped the pilot would begin in 2020.

SECO has been trying to figure out why Seattle is not gun-ho for the program, when it would not be of any expense to them. The developer also looked to the University of Washington as an additional landing site, but has been unsuccessful.

Because SECO already owns the property where the Renton landing would be, they won’t need the city’s approval, but they already have the support of Renton leaders.

The program would start with three, 149-passenger catamarans, so they could run on the hour at peak morning and evening commuting times, with one boat sitting in the wings. The trip from Renton to South Lake Union is estimated at 50 minutes, due to slowdowns within the Montlake Cut.

Timmons told the commission CEO Michael Christ spares no expense, pointing towards the Hyatt Regency on the waterfront, and the water taxi would be similar. SECO also considering subsidizing the cost of the taxi for riders.

The passenger boat would have a workstation at each seat, wifi, bicycle racks and possibly a private booth for phone calls on the long trip, Timmons said. The top of the two-story catamaran would have removable seats so companies could host events. They also mentioned offering “high class food and beverage service.”

She said they’ve been in talks with “notable” and “large employers” about possibly allowing they employees to count the boat ride into their working hours.

One commissioner questioned how the water taxis present a socially equitable transit solution.

“I’m thinking about the tech jobs in South Lake Union, and those aren’t really the folks I think of about helping lift people up for opportunity,” the commissioner said.

Timmons said there’s more commuters coming from Renton and South King County into South Lake Union besides tech company employees, and that Christ will pay for the boats as a proof of concept. It makes sense to connect the density in South Lake Union to the runway for growth and density of Renton she said.

Renton’s lobbyist Doug Levy also mentioned to the commission that only about 11 percent of Renton residents live and work in the city, and that the area is transit hungry.

Right now SECO is hoping for passenger fares to be $7 to $8 each way. Timmons said it would put dollars on the line until the service was efficient.

“It’s not about the money, this is really about his legacy,” Timmons told the commission.

Once Seattle and SECO have a formalized agreement, Timmons said the developer is ready to place a deposit. All American Marine in Bellingham, that built a few ferries in King County, would build the catamaran to maintain the look at water transit.

While still waiting on Seattle, SECO has been working with King County the whole time to look at passenger transit surrounding the landing areas and making sure the water taxis line up with county water services. Timmons said the expectation would be to work with the county during a two to three year pilot, and eventually transition authority to the county.

Timmons said SECO is merely the catalyst for what they see as an important transportation alternative from Renton to Seattle. She said Christ sees this as a legacy project while also serving the over $800 million investment made in Renton’s waterfront, which is valued at $1.2 billion.

Renton city officials and King County have looked at a water taxi for over a decade, but efforts halted due to economic downturn. Then SECO started to revisit the idea in recent years, as previously reported in the Renton Reporter.

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