Washington State Ferries’ new schedule for the Triangle Route goes into effect on Sunday, March 31, and both WSF personnel and island ferry representatives say they want to hear from people about challenges they encounter.
The new schedule, which WSF drafted last fall and winter, makes timing changes to some sailings, and it removes all westbound single-destination sailings in an effort to improve operations at the Fauntleroy dock. It also increases sailings between Southworth and Fauntleroy and Southworth and Vashon, but decreases sailings between Vashon and Fauntleroy, especially in the evening.
Between 6:45 and 8:20 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, there will be no sailings from Vashon to Fauntleroy, and “layover sailings,” via Southworth, will not be allowed. The exception is that vehicles may first travel from Vashon to Southworth, disembark there, go to the end of line and pay to cross, at least initially, according to WSF spokesperson Hadley Rodero.
Metro bus service has also been adjusted to align with the new ferry schedule, and a copy of the new bus schedule reflects many changes throughout the day. Metro’s new schedule will go into effect on Saturday, March 30, the day before the ferry schedule change.
Last week, members of the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee set a date for a public meeting for islanders to attend and share their experiences from the first weeks of the new schedule: 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at a location yet to be determined. They also are planning for a follow-up meeting in May, which is expected to come shortly before a Vashon meeting Washington State Ferry officials will hold; the WSF meeting details, including time and date, are expected to be released this week.
The purpose of the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee’s meeting next month is twofold, according to committee member Eric Beckman: to get an “early pulse” on how people are feeling about the new schedule and to identify the range of data the committee needs to request or collect with the goal of having a more action-oriented agenda for the committee’s May meeting.
Greg Beardsley, the longtime head of the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee, noted that he expects there to be challenges in the first weeks of the new schedule, in part because of some elements of the schedule and because of the learning curve involved in implementing any new schedule.
“We need to hear what people’s experiences are with the schedule so that we can start formulating the issues that are going to surround it,” he said, stressing that he wants to hear from people who take the ferries — and people who do not because of access or other issues.
At the April meeting, he said, members of the committee, which also includes member Justin Hirsch, want to understand the themes of problems that they will need to follow up on. They are aware of some potential issues already, he said, such as allocations of Southworth and Vashon vehicles on vessels, but they want to hear from community members about additional issues.
“There are things none of us experience,” Beardsley said, speaking for the committee. “We need to hear from others who are trying to get on the ferries so we can represent them.”
The new schedule is available online, onboard vessels and around town. At Washington State Ferries, spokesperson Rodero said she hopes that people will familiarize themselves with it and plan ahead — and be patient the first few weeks. Like Beardsley, she said she expects there to be a learning curve as both riders and staff adjust. She noted that staff may be new to the route themselves, as staff can rotate at the start of each new schedule, but she said that she does not expect a large influx of new employees at Fauntleroy. Training about the new schedule has been underway for more than a month and will continue until the schedule starts, she said.
Rodero also answered questions about elements of the new schedule some islanders have called out as problematic, including the 4:10 p.m. sailing from Fauntleroy, which goes first to Southworth and then to Vashon. She noted that the 4:10 p.m. sailing is due to arrive on Vashon five minutes after the next sailing from Fauntleroy, which leaves at 4:35 p.m.
Some people island commuters have indicated they will not want to get on that earlier boat — only to sail past Vashon and get home later than if they were on the 4:35 p.m. sailing.
Rodero said that because of the lack of space on the dock to sort vehicles, the only option for those people would be to leave the dock and go to the end of the line to wait for a future sailing. She indicated that some riders have indicated they may not mind the slower trip home.
“You can look at it in the positive,” she said. “We have heard a lot of community members say instead of idling and being in line, they will be on the boat for that time.”
Regarding the evening sailings, Rodero said WSF will not allow island passengers to travel to Fauntleroy via Southworth between the 6:45 and 8:20 p.m. There are vessels that leave Vashon for Southworth at 7 and 7:40 p.m. on weekdays. They then head to Fauntleroy, but bypass Vashon. The only way Vashon-Fauntleroy passengers could make use of those options, as previously stated, is to disembark and then reboard, after going through and paying at the tollbooth.
She said WSF will monitor the 6:45 p.m. sailing from Vashon to Fauntleroy to see if there is more demand than what the vessel can hold. If so, she said, WSF may make adjustments in the schedule.
“If we see consistent overloads there, then it might make sense to make the 7 p.m. departure from Vashon to Southworth one where passengers could travel from Vashon to Southworth to Fauntleroy, but because there is only 15 minutes’ difference, we are not sure that there will be traffic demand … to make that connection necessary.”
Previously, Rodero had said WSF officials made the decision to reduce evening runs from Vashon to allow vessels to quickly return to Fauntleroy and clear that area out. She also noted that many commuters told WSF to extend rush hour considerations to 7 p.m. Regarding ridership numbers, she said, the five sailings between 6:35 and 8:45 p.m. from Vashon to Fauntleroy carried 150 vehicles in May 2018. By comparison, the four scheduled sailings westbound from Fauntleroy during the same timeframe carried 354 vehicles, and the 8:55 p.m. carried an additional 106).
“As the numbers demonstrate, we are trying to serve the high demand coming out of Fauntleroy during the evening peak period,” she said.
Last week, she provided a different response from scheduler Justin Resnick, indicating that to stop at Vashon during the 7 or 7:20 p.m. sailings from Southworth to Fauntleroy would necessitate overtime for the crews, and thus, reductions would need to be made earlier in the day to avoid that. She noted that dwell time is important to the schedule and that loading a dual destination sailing takes time.
“It is something we are open to and will be monitoring in preparation for summer,” she said, about the possibility of allowing Fauntleroy-bound passengers on the 7 p.m. sailing to Southworth.
Because of lead time to staff the schedule, changes for summer would need to be identified and made within the first month of its implementation, she said. Outside that window, she said changes would need to be made for the fall schedule, which begins in September.
“We have committed to monitoring the new schedule and watching how it works and making changes as needed,” she reiterated.
At the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee last week, a question arose about how WSF will measure success with the new schedule.
Rodero addressed that as well.
“Success is that we fill the boats and maintain our schedule. On time and full boats: Those are the two basics that we have been saying all along that are the pieces we want to improve on,” she said.
Finally, she again requested planning and patience in the first weeks of the new schedule, and encouraged islanders to share their experiences.
“We definitely want to hear from folks the first few weeks of the schedule. Continuing to share input, feedback and concerns is really important,” she said, adding that traffic patterns and how boats are loaded will be different than they are currently. “It will be a learning curve for everyone.”
Up next, she said, will be WSF outreach concerning the Fauntleroy dock.
“That will be the next phase of addressing some of the challenges of the route as we move on from the schedule,” she said.