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Ferry service changes are really coming this time | Editorial

October 22, 2013 · 1:24 PM
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It’s been said that Vashon’s ferry advocates — a small group of islanders who campaign for sustained ferry service — seem to “cry wolf.” Annually these volunteer ferry watchdogs warn us that state budget cuts could cancel sailings if residents don’t make their objections known. And annually the Legislature comes up with 11th-hour funding for the ferries, avoiding the proposed cuts and leading to a laissez-faire attitude among islanders.

The ferry service cuts this group currently warns of, however, aren’t related to the state’s budget. It’s been decided that next year Vashon will get a new ferry and see a new schedule with fewer sailings each day — a fact we’re afraid has been lost on many ferry riders.

Next year, the 124-car Cathlamet will be reassigned to the north-end triangle route, replacing the 87-car Klahowya. Washington State Ferries officials say this gives the route greater overall vehicle capacity, making it a good time to add space between sailings on a route known for falling behind schedule easily. (If you missed it, see our story in the Sept. 25 issue or on our website.)

A couple of Vashon’s ferry advocates, however, are already crying fowl. They’ve leaked some draft schedules that WSF didn’t mean to go public and are claiming the cancelled trips and new times for other runs in the drafts would create longer lines and longer waits for commuters. The drafts will become a reality, they say, if islanders don’t make some noise about it.

Ferry officials, however, say they should slow down. The head of the state ferry system last week said the agency is still looking at its options and is far from an official schedule proposal. It’s premature, he said, to jump to conclusions about these draft schedules. They hope a new schedule will allow the boats to stay on time more without causing a pain for commuters.

It’s hard to say whether we should get up in arms about these draft schedules or give the state time to work through its process and possibly come up with something better. One thing is certain, though: Ferry advocates aren’t crying wolf and commuters should be concerned. It’s hard to imagine how any schedule change that involves decreasing sailings won’t impact riders, and the draft schedules leaked do suggest there could be fewer sailings during the busiest times. Riders will simply have fewer options when leaving the island or coming home, and we think some commuters have to get up earlier, come home later or alter their current work schedules. The new schedule could be less convenient for the commuter students our school district depends on and make it harder for goods to get to the island.

If you commute to work or ride the ferries frequently, stop by Ober Park on Saturday between noon and 3 p.m. Hear what state officials at an open house on this topic have to say and ask hard questions about how the new schedule is being drafted and how the state will manage to decrease sailings while continuing to manage our busy ferry traffic.


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