Port of Tacoma bus tour dates set for early 2017


The Port of Tacoma offers free bus tours, taking visitors on a behind-the-scenes look at the busy ship docks and rail yards. Five public tour dates have been set through May 2017. For reservations, call 253-383-9463 or email: bustours@portoftacoma.com. For more information, visit online:


Thursday, Jan. 26, 9:30-11 a.m.

Monday, Feb. 13, 2-3:30 p.m.

Tuesday, March 7, 2-3:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 1, 10-11:30 a.m.

Tuesday, May 9, 9:30-11 a.m.


Editor’s note: The story below was originally published in the Tacoma Daily Index on Nov. 16, 2016.

A closer look: Port tour gets to heart of the action

Port of Tacoma offers the public a chance to see the port in operation from dock-side seats

By David Guest

Tacoma Daily Index editor

When viewed from afar, the vast landscape that is the Port of Tacoma seems to never change, or at best, slowly. A quick glance at the massive cranes along the Blair and Hylebos Waterways from Interstate 5 or from an office window rarely catch any movement. Large ships gently float through Commencement Bay, but never dart around fast enough to capture our attention for too long.

The Port of Tacoma's monthly public bus tours take the public on a behind-the-scenes look at port operations. Credit: David Guest / TDI
The Port of Tacoma’s monthly public bus tours take the public on a behind-the-scenes look at port operations. Credit: David Guest / TDI

From a distance, waiting and watching for some sign of life at the port can seem like watching stars move across the night sky.

Move a little closer and the port comes alive. Trucks and trains stream into and away from the tide flats carrying metal shipping containers, logs, tanks of petroleum, cars and heavy equipment.

Get even closer and you’ll see the controlled chaos that happens every day at the port that is obscured from view as the distance increases. The view from the middle of the beehive proves that those cranes really do move. Trucks fly through narrow roadways, along docks and shipping yards, playing “Frogger” with machines that have plucked 40-foot shipping containers loaded with tons of cargo off the ground.

Control towers sit above the fray, sheltering workers with radios who dispatch straddle carriers and trucks to specific areas in the yards. Shipping containers are constantly on the move in a carefully choreographed ballet of diesel-powered machines.

You don’t have to be a Longshoreman, sailor or truck driver to venture into the heart of the action. The Port of Tacoma will take you there in the comfort and safety of a chartered bus. The port offers free 1 1/2 hour public tours, usually once a month, in addition to its popular once-a-year boat tours that are part of Tacoma’s Maritime Fest in the summer.

In October, Rod Koon, senior manager of communications for the Port of Tacoma, led a public tour of of the port, directing the bus through security checkpoints, past ships that are longer than two or three city blocks and behind stacks of shipping containers.

“We’re in the shipping business, obviously, but in one way, we are in the real estate business,” Koon said to start the tour. “We started out with 240 acres (in 1918). Today we have about 2,400 acres of land. This is land that we’ve developed into shipping terminals and warehouses.”

According to the port, the Port of Tacoma supported over 29,000 jobs and created $3 billion in economic activity in 2014. Of the more than 12,000 workers whose jobs directly result from port operations (truckers, Longshore workers, railroad and warehouse workers, among others), the Port of Tacoma employs only about 250.

“We have a segment of our workforce that works in security, we have a segment that works in maintenance, we have grounds, and facilities, we have electricians, we have people who do painting and carpentry work, and people who work on these cranes,” said Koon who has worked at the port since 1983.

While a distant view of port activity may seem to reflect a glacial pace, the reality is that lots of really big things move really fast, day and night. Each year, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, together making up the Northwest Seaport Alliance, handle more than a million 40-foot containers and drive over 100,000 cars off roll on/roll off cargo ships coming to and from Pacific Rim ports.

Getting ships to docks, unloaded and loaded and back to sea as quickly as possible is vital as Puget Sound ports compete with other West Coast ports for cargo.

“These ships cost between $50,000 to $100,000 a day to operate,” said Koon, pointing out the large bus windows at a pair of container ships tied up along the Blair Waterway. “When you’re sitting at a pier, you’re not making money. They want to get in – get out. Quite often, they are delivering a couple hundred containers and at the same time, they’re picking up hundreds of containers. And then they’re going to their next port of call.”

Koon and others on the Port of Tacoma staff are enthusiastically willing to show the public how it happens.

Port of Tacoma bus tours

Upcoming in 2016 — Nov. 30 and Dec. 13, 9:30-11 a.m.

Free, but reservations required (no children under 6)

Tours depart from Fabulich Center (3600 Port of Tacoma Road)


 Email: bustours@portoftacoma.com 

or call 253-383-9463

Rod Koon, left, and Leslie Barstow take visitors on a bus tour of Port of Tacoma facilities. Credit: David Guest / TDI
Rod Koon, left, and Leslie Barstow take visitors on a bus tour of Port of Tacoma facilities. Credit: David Guest / TDI