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Passenger ferry made reality through Nichols Bros.

Partners in Aqua Express offering passenger-only ferry service from Kingston to Seattle were on hand Saturday for the ribbon cutting ceremony. - Submitted photo
Partners in Aqua Express offering passenger-only ferry service from Kingston to Seattle were on hand Saturday for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
— image credit: Submitted photo

If a new private passenger ferry service between Kingston and Seattle proves successful, a similar service could be in the cards for a Clinton to Seattle run.

The passenger-only ferry service, which began Tuesday, has ties to Freeland shipyard Nichols Brothers Boat Builders. Nichols is a partner in Aqua Express, a new company that operates the private, passenger-only ferry, which is expected to cut travel times for many commuters who work in Seattle.

Nichols Brothers chairman Matt Nichols said that if this venture is successful, Aqua Express will be looking toward other routes.

“In the near future we are hoping to add passenger ferry service from Southworth to Seattle,” he said. “Then we will look at north south routes, such as Clinton to Seattle.”

Nichols said he estimates travel time between South Whidbey and Seattle would be 45 minutes.

Travel time on the new route from Kingston in north Kitsap County is 38 minutes. Comparable, but much shorter crossings between Seattle and Bainbridge Island and Bremerton, take 35 minutes. There is no direct Washington State Ferry run from Kingston to Seattle.

Nichols, his three Aqua Express partners, and a number of politicians were on hand Saturday for the dedication ceremonies on the new service in Kingston. Nichols said many commuters in Kitsap County have been anxious for this type of service.

“It was a real big day,” he said.

The ferry, which is a Nichols-built boat, leaves from the renovated Kingston fishing pier alongside the state ferry dock. It docks in Seattle at the Argosy Cruises terminal near the state ferry terminal at Coleman Dock.

The Aqua Express will have food on board, and even has a bar. Most state ferries have closed their galleys. It also will have high-speed Internet connectivity.

Nichols said he and his partners — Tom Tougas of Four Seasons Marine, John Blackman of Argosy Cruises and Darrell Bryan of Clipper Navigation, Inc. — had thought about starting a passenger-only ferry business for eight years, but put the idea on hold when Washington State Ferries attempted passenger-only runs.

When WSF ceased passenger-only service two years ago, the partners finally decided to get into the business.

In July the state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) approved Aqua Express’ proposal to operate the passenger-only route. In its filing with the UTC, Aqua Express company officials estimated it would service 284,000 passengers a year and generate about $1.6 million in revenue. Passengers would pay $10.50 for a round trip on the ferry.

Sailing on the new route is the old state ferry, Tyee, a 292-passenger vessel which was built at Nichols Freeland boatyard. Nichols said his company also refurbished the Tyee in preparation for starting the new route.

The Aqua Express will run only during commute hours. It will run only on weekdays, although company officials say special runs may be instituted for festivals and sporting events.

Another private ferry operates between Bremerton and Seattle, but it has been struggling to find enough passengers to pay $14 for the round trip, double the state-ferry fare for the same route.

INFO BOX

Aqua Express Service

Passenger-only ferry service began Tuesday between Kingston in Kitsap County to Seattle’s Pier 55. Service is offered five days a week with five sailings a day from Kingston and five from Seattle. There is no service on weekends or official state and national holidays. Leaving Kingston, runs are scheduled for 5:30 a.m., 7:10 a.m. and 8:50 a.m., 3:50 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. The boat leaves Seattle at 6:20 a.m., 8 a.m., 3 p.m., 4:40 p.m. and 6:20 p.m.

Travel time is 40 minutes; cost is $5.25 one way or $10.50 roundtrip.

To learn more about the new service, go to the Aqua Express Web site at www.aqua-express.com.

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