Marine Traffic

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PAM DZAMA | Fed Up With the State's Ferry Follies - Kitsap Sun

For those dependent on the Washington State Ferries system as a critical transit link to work or an appointment east of Kitsap County, frustration and dissatisfaction with the system is never far away.

It didn’t fail to disappoint recently when the Wenatchee, coming from Bainbridge Island, failed to slam on the brakes in time to avoid colliding with the Coleman Dock in Seattle. That incident set up the standard chain of events which moved the 144-car Hyak, usually operating in Bremerton, to Kingston. And the 208-car Puyallup, normally in use in Kingston, to Bainbridge Island.

Kingston has the most vehicle traffic in the Puget Sound area, so I don’t understand why the larger Puyallup was sent to Bainbridge and replaced with the smaller Hyak. Maybe there’s just something really special about Bainbridge Island.

Of course Bremerton took the brunt of the travel mess. WSF tried to alleviate the transit dilemma by adding two private passenger-only ferries to augment the one remaining car ferry, but for those dependent on vehicles, it hardly solved the problem. Maybe it’s a conspiracy spawned by the green lobby who want everyone out of their cars and into alternative modes of transportation.

A recent letter to the editor from a rider on the Bremerton ferry quoted a WSF spokeswoman as indicating Bremerton commuters were “getting accustomed to being resilient in their travel patterns.” He correctly labeled that comment as propaganda and went on to say riders weren’t “resilient” but instead were hostages. He’s right — as is another writer who referred to the Bremerton run as the “redheaded stepchild” of the ferry system.

Bremerton riders suffer through this poor service. But how long will their employers continue to tolerate tardiness before they find someone who’s not a prisoner to the ferry system?

I’m glad WSF was able to return all vessels to their respective runs before the long Labor Day weekend. Under normal circumstances, the ferry waits are lengthy for this holiday and it would have been even worse in Kingston if the Puyallup hadn’t been returned.

At the same time the ferry system was moving boats around Puget Sound like chess pieces on a board, the state Transportation Commission held a meeting in Silverdale to obtain input about implementing the Legislature’s recommended 2.5 percent fare increase in October — in addition to a 10 percent super surcharge next summer. There was near-unanimous opposition to the surcharge and thankfully the Commission didn’t adopt it.

Understandably, those of us dependent on the ferry system are fed up with an unelected commission dreaming up funding schemes which invariably sock it to the riders. From 2000 through 2007 fares increased 70 percent. This latest super-surcharge tactic was the commission’s interpretation of “pricing strategies” planning authorized by the Legislature in 2007 when ferry fares were frozen.

The idea of creating various “pricing strategies” was supposed to alter riders’ behavior and ultimately reduce capital costs. Did it occur to anyone that residents have limited options if they want to leave the peninsula?

Another brilliant idea floated by the WSF is a reservation system for ferries. A pilot project is to be developed this fall. The Kingston/Edmonds route was chosen to be the guinea pig for this proposal. The reservations are supposed to lessen congestion, which is always a problem in Kingston. While there are normally backups in Edmonds, the traffic doesn’t go through the middle of town as it does in Kingston.

Of course, this whole concept runs afoul of the mandate in our Washington Constitution which specifically stipulates that the ferries are part of the highway system and should be treated as such. Reservations aren’t needed to access any bridge, road or highway in the state.

A reservation system is currently in place on the Port Townsend route. But comparing its 370,000 cars per year to Kingston’s 2,278,000 is like comparing apples to oranges.

There are a myriad of unanswered questions regarding the reservations. Will they be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of riders, as opposed to the convenience of the system? How much will it cost, and wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to add capacity to the system? What happened to the efficiency that was supposed to be generated by the “Wave-2-Go” cards that are still being hand-swiped by ticket-takers in booths? Exactly how much did that technological “advance” cost the system and the public?

While there has been mismanagement of the ferry system over the years, the ultimate responsibility for adequately funding it falls on the Legislature. Until Olympia acts, I’m afraid we’ll be held hostage to ever-escalating fares and the nautical equivalent of Super Glue, WD-40 and duct tape while the system finds ways to solve its various problems.

Pam Dzama can be reached at

Read more:

Powered by Qumana

No comments:

Post a Comment