Understanding the Difference Between a Seattle Water Taxi & a Washington State Ferry

Nov. 23, 2016 Moving to Seattle


What is the difference between a Seattle Water Taxi and a Washington State Ferry?

Seattle Water Taxi

It’s a common question, with multiple answers. Seattle Water Taxis, run by King County Metro, are smaller boats that are meant to carry pedestrians and bicycles only. Currently, there are two water taxis that depart from Downtown Seattle. One goes to West Seattle and the other goes to Vashon Island. The West Seattle water taxi comes and goes more often, operating throughout the weekday; however, the Vashon water taxi comes and goes only during busy commuting times on the weekdays. You can find a full schedule for both water taxis on the KC Metro website. Depending on what type of ORCA Card plan you have, you can pay your water taxi fare with your card. If you don’t have an ORCA Card, you can also use cash or use a credit/debit card to purchase single tickets through vending machines found at any water taxi terminal.

Future Taxis: Kitsap Transit’s Passenger-Only Ferry Plan

After the original writing of this article, Kitsap Transit’s plan for future passenger-only ferry access was passed. There will be three additional walk-on taxi routes that will leave from Downtown Seattle, rolling out gradually over the next four years. Bremerton will be the first, with services starting in July 2017. Kingston will be second, with services starting in July 2018. Finally, Southworth will be third, with services starting in July 2020. You can access more information about the Kitsap Transit plan for passenger-only ferries / water taxis here.

Washington State Ferries (WSF)

Ferries, on the other hand, run by Washington State Department of Transportation and are much larger than water taxis, as they also harbor vehicles to and from their terminals. Unlike the water taxi, ferries are pet-friendly, so long as Fido stays in your vehicle, on a leash, or in a carrier. There are many more ferries that operate along the coast (with some variation each season) when compared to the Seattle-based Water Taxi. Ferry routes include:

  • Anacortes – San Juan Islands – Sidney, British Columbia
  • Port Townsend – Coupeville
  • Edmonds – Kingston
  • Seattle – Bremerton
  • Fauntleroy (West Seattle) – Southworth
  • Point Defiance – Tahlequah
  • Mukilteo – Clinton
  • Seattle – Bainbridge Island
  • Fauntleroy (West Seattle) – Vashon
  • Southworth – Vashon

With ferries comes more flexibility, but often longer wait and load times. It’s very important that you give yourself extra time and plan accordingly if you choose to take ferries when commuting during the week. For a full schedule for all of Washington State’s ferries, visit the WSDOT website.

Paying Washington State Ferry Fare: ORCA Cards vs. Wave2Go

Paying for ferry access is a little more convoluted than the water taxi fares, only because there are two different types: passenger fares and vehicle fares. Passenger fares for those just walking on to the ferry are generally round trip, with discounted rates for seniors, persons with disabilities, and youth 6-18 years of age. Children 5 and under travel free. You can load a WSF monthly passenger pass onto your ORCA Card to have unlimited ferry use each month, or you can use it like an e-purse, deducting the fare from your card balance each time you use it. Again, this is for passenger passes only. ORCA does not cover vehicle tickets.

If you prefer to go without an ORCA Card, this is where Wave2Go comes in handy. Wave2Go is the WSF ticketing system. Unlike the ORCA Card, Wave2Go caters to both walk-on passenger fares and vehicle fares. Tickets are available for pre-purchase on the Wave2Go online store, at the terminal’s Wave2Go Kiosks, or directly at the tollbooth upon arrival. However, WSF recommends purchasing online and printing your tickets at home before you arrive to the terminal. Wave2Go also offerse multi-ride passes and monthly passes for both vehicles and walk-on passengers. Again, Wave2Go is the only system to pay for your vehicle fare.

If you’re looking for more detailed information on ferry fares, visit the WSDOT website.