Ferry Special Report: Commuters follow strict routine

While nightfall still engulfs Kitsap and most are still tucked away in the coziness of their beds, the commuter’s day begins.

It’s a long day, starting shortly after 4 a.m. for some and ending around 6:30 p.m.

To swing the all-consuming commute, their morning routines and transit transfers are as orchestrated as the Boston Philharmonic.

Most have the coffee maker prepped and lunches prepared the night before so all they have to do is wake and walk out the door.

“The coffee maker goes off a 5:27 a.m.,” said Rob Bright, who catches the 6:25 a.m. boat. “When I hear it gargle, that’s when I get out of bed at 5:33. That’s my second snooze. The routine is down to seconds.”

Bright is a Kingston/Edmonds commuter of 10 years who works at Fisherman’s Terminal.

“I hike out in the dark,” he said. “It’s like going to school in the morning.”

Actually, nearly every minute of a ferry commuters’ day is scheduled down to the second.

Rebecca Bilbao, who’s ridden the 6:25 a.m. boat out of Kingston for the past six years to her job downtown Seattle, sets her alarm for 5:20 a.m and is out the door at 6:10 a.m. on the dot.

After disembarking the boat, she hoofs it — braving all the curve balls Pacific Northwest weather can throw — to the uncovered train station to catch the 7:06 a.m. Sounder to King Station, and finally it’s time to start her working day.

“I always leave the office at 4:46 (p.m.) That’s the exact time it takes me to walk to the train,” Bilboa said. “Everybody knows because one day I missed (4:46) and had a panic attack.”

Bilbao races to catch the 5:50 p.m. boat home.

Susan Liddle leaves work every day at 4 p.m without a nano-second to spare. She drives a vanpool and it’s her duty to round up the other vanpoolers. It’s a stressful commitment, she said.

In fact, a ferry commuters’ rigid schedule adds a heightened element of anxiety to an already stress-laden work week.

Some summarize the Monday-through-Friday shuffle as a sleep-deprived, grueling means to an end.

“The adrenaline levels for me are rocketing up and down throughout the day,” Bright said.

Adding to the mix, the organization and preparation required to swing the commute of magnificent proportions also consumes their much-coveted weekend downtime.

As though they just ran a marathon, Saturday is known as “recovery day.”

“I love to sleep in, and I just can’t get past 6:30 or 7, and then I have to be on-task to get everything done I missed during the week,” said Liddle, who wakes at 4:15 a.m. five days a week to leave Bremerton and arrive on time for the 6:25 a.m. boat in Kingston. “My weekend is jam-packed with chores. I cook on the weekends to have my meals prepared ahead of time.”

The crossing also comes with a financial burden as well.

Bilbao pays $126 a month for a train pass and $86 for a ferry pass; Liddle fronts $350 a month for her commute and Bright forks out $83 a month in ferry fares.

But they do commute from Kitsap by choice. They chose to live here for the quality of life, the beautiful views and the peace and quiet.

The benefit of working on the east side is realized on payday.

They make the best of the daily grind. Some carpool, some offer a fellow ferrier a ride to their final destination and it is 25 minutes of down time, where they don’t have to be alert drivers and can converse with friends.

They even have quasi-commuter commune of sorts, as a group of regulars consistently gathers to share the trip.

“It’s the two times a day I know I get to see my friends,” said commuter Johnny Walker. “It’s community. Community makes it tolerable.”

It’s their commute and they’ve taken ownership of it.

However, some would tweak a few things, such as bringing back the passenger ferry to Seattle and encouraging public transit entities in King, Kitsap and Snohomish counties to work together so transfer times are in conjunction.

Some 4.3 million take advantage of the Kingston/Edmonds ferry service, according the Washington State Ferries 2007 Traffic Statistics Rider Segment Report.

A total of 13.2 million rode the Kitsap ferry lines in 2007, the report said.

This is one part of a four-part feature on Washington State Ferries. Also see:

Local lawmakers join together | Imagine no ferries | WSF plan motivates riders

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