Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee member Justin Hirsch delivered the following remarks about the new ferry schedule to Washington State Ferry officials at the meeting on May 30. The committee made several recommendations to WSF.
The Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee held a public meeting on April 24th and discussed the summer schedule change and its impact on our community. We would like to offer the following observations and suggestions for your consideration.
First, community members generally share the impression that there has been a marked improvement in clearing westbound lines at Fauntleroy in the afternoon. It appears that eliminating single-destination sailings has had the desired effect and allowed traffic to flow more freely without requiring dockworkers to sort cars to try to get the right cars around the wrong cars. We hope that this trend continues into the summer as traffic volumes increase and commuters are deciding between travelling by single-occupancy vehicle, vanpool, passenger-only ferry or bus.
Also notable are the many occasions we have noticed that the crew have worked hard to load every possible car, even when it means sailing a couple minutes off schedule. Motorcycles have been loaded first into the areas of the vessel where cars will not fit — in the wings and the corners of the main car deck and at the very end of the loading procedure. Commuters have greatly appreciated this extra effort by ferry crews both in terms of getting aboard an earlier sailing and minimizing the ferry line.
While the summer schedule change has generally had a positive impact so far, it has not been without a few problems as well. Specifically, the dual destination sailings run a particular risk for Vashon of “plugging” vessels with Southworth traffic such that no more Vashon traffic can be loaded because they would not be able to be unloaded at Vashon without moving Southworth cars on the cardeck. This structural bias towards Southworth allows arriving Southworth cars to load on the ferry as Vashon drivers who were in line before them wait on the dock for the next sailing. This issue is particularly apparent with 3:30 p.m. sailing from Fauntleroy, which often “plugs” with Southworth traffic. The next sailing is the dreaded 4:10 p.m.
“Southworth-First” such that Vashon cars that just miss the 3:30 p.m. sailing don’t arrive at Vashon until about 5 p.m., five minutes after the 4:35 p.m. sailing, which left Fauntleroy 25 minutes after they did. Vessels should not be plugged with Southworth traffic while Vashon traffic waits on the dock.
The 4:10 p.m. sailing from Fauntleroy to Vashon via Southworth should be modified to stop at Vashon first as all other sailings do. Vashon drivers at Fauntleroy are requesting to skip that sailing and wait on the dock for the 4:35 p.m. sailing instead, adding to congestion. The inconvenience to Vashon commuters and the confusion of arriving after the next sailing outweigh any benefits. If this request is not acted upon, then at a bare minimum, the 3:30 p.m. sailing from Fauntleroy must never be “plugged” with Southworth traffic. The new schedule has greatly increased service for Southworth, and as such a few minor concessions for Vashon are appropriate.
Finally, the two-boat schedule must be revised to favor Vashon and encourage Southworth drivers to take advantage of their other options to access the east side of the Puget Sound. In addition to the changes requested above, several operational changes are strongly suggested:
1. Streamline existing operations through the tollbooths to minimize the bottleneck. Most drivers do not want a receipt for their fare and all drivers should be encouraged to purchase tickets and ask questions in advance.
2. Bring back the pre-ticketed bypass lane in one form or another, including having a WSF worker pull pre-ticketed cars out of the South tollbooth lane and redeem tickets with a hand scanner.
Further, as soon as boats are running late some immediate operational changes are necessary:
1. Walk-on passengers must be loaded only once at the very end of the loading procedure in order to avoid loading walk-on passengers twice.
2. Westbound cars at Fauntleroy should be directed to pull forward several car-lengths toward the gate during the moments between when the last arriving car clears the dock and the vessel’s crew is ready to load. This practice will encourage drivers to put down their phones, start their cars and pay attention to the vessel loading procedure and also create several additional spaces for cars to pass through the tollbooth on the other end of the dock.
These practices together can save significant time over the course of an afternoon when summer traffic volumes add extra stress to the Triangle Route. Thank you for your consideration. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.
Committee members are Greg Beardsley, Justin Hirsch and Eric Beckman.