Community

Ferry district has a new head as it looks to the future

By NATALIE MARTIN

A King County Council staff member has been named the new head of the King County Ferry District, which operates Vashon’s passenger ferry service.

A.J. McClure, 36, the former outreach and communications director for County Councilmember Julia Patterson, was appointed as the ferry district’s new administrator by the district’s board of directors last week.

Before coming to the county, McClure, a Renton resident, worked on regional policy for the city of Seattle and also worked for a number of community organizations.

Michelle Allison, aide to Councilmember Joe McDermott, who chairs the ferry district, said McClure was chosen to oversee the small transportation agency in part because he is already knowledgable about King County and issues surrounding its water taxi service from Vashon to downtown Seattle and from West Seattle to downtown.

“His experience in outreach and communication will be very beneficial to making sure customers can get what they need, and we can continue providing efficient service,” Allison said.

McClure comes on at a busy time for the ferry district. Ridership is at an all-time high and continues to climb, and the district is in final negotiations with a contractor to build two new water taxis. The boats, funded in large part by federal grants, will replace the two catamarans it currently uses, both of which are leased.

At the same time, the ferry district has an uncertain future. The revenue the agency makes from its two routes doesn’t cover its costs, and it has drawn from its reserves in recent years to maintain service. The reserve funds are nearly depleted, McClure said, and in 2014 officials will focus on finding new sources of revenue.

“The ferry district is at a very critical point right now in terms of funding and ability,” he said. “The service is actually doing very well, and we’re building ridership on both the routes, but the future is unknown how it’s going to continue to operate.”

McClure emphasized that he knows how vital the water taxi service is, especially for Vashon Islanders who commute to jobs downtown, and he expects the county will be able to maintain its current service levels.

“We haven’t identified a doomsday scenario,” he said. “We’re ahead of the curve. I think we recognized this was coming, and we have time to plan for it and come up with a set of solutions. … We’re kind of using this year as the year we need to make some serious traction to plan for the future.”

If the district can get on a stable path, McClure said, it may also look at expanding its water taxi service and adding other routes.

“All those things at play made it interesting for me to help lead the effort,” he said.

The former ferry district administrator, Christine Nelson, stepped down in the summer of 2012 after three months on the job, citing family reasons.

Allison said the position wasn’t filled until recently in part because there was a proposal before the state Legislature to fold the free-standing ferry district into the county government, something that would have eliminated the administrator job. A bill proposing the consolidation — a move that was predicted to save $200,000 a year — passed in the House but not the Senate.

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