Editor’s note: The link to the islanders’ testimony is included below. They begin speaking at about the 30-minute mark.
Last week, four islanders testified in Olympia before the House Transportation Committee, asking that Washington State Ferries implement the UW Evans School study recommendations and delay the new schedule, slated to go into effect in March.
Rick Wallace and Steve Stockett, champions of the pendulum schedule, spearheaded the effort and were two of the speakers, along with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue Chief Charlie Krimmert and Cheryl Lubbert, the chamber of commerce board chair.
Additionally, Stockett said he would like the Legislature to allocate $500,000 to TRAC, the Washington State Transportation Center, to pilot the improvements in the Evans School study beginning this year. TRAC is an interdisciplinary transportation research agency, whose members include the University of Washington, Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Transportation. Some of the recommendations in the Evans School study include additional staff for Washington State Ferries, mobile ticket sales and validation, and expanded data collection and analysis.
Stockett, who has been studying the ferry service for more than two years, believes the Evans School efficiencies would help Washington State Ferries increase its sailings at all locations by 10 to 15 percent each year, about 25,000 sailings per year.
Prior to their collective testimony on Jan. 31, Wallace said he and Stockett had met with all of Vashon’s elected officials at the state level, Speaker of the House Frank Chopp and chair of the House Transportation Committee, Jake Fey.
“We felt this opportunity to testify was a crucial point in this whole process,” Wallace said.
Wallace was the first to speak. He noted that the Triangle Route accounts for 13 percent of all traffic on the state’s ferry system.
He reminded the legislators that they commissioned the UW Evans School study, but the current budget does not implement any of its recommendations, and the proposed new schedule makes no use of them.
“We believe the concepts in that study could pay off in the long run for every single ferry community in the system,” he said.
He also thanked Rep. Jesse Young, (R-Gig Harbor) for cosponsoring, HB 1189, with Vashon’s representatives, Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) and Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle). The bill concerns ferry service performance measures and would implement a provision to measure how many passengers and cars are moved on Washington’s ferries.
“There is no such goal setting now,” he said. “And after all, it is a transportation system for people and cars, and it should be measuring that. You should ask the ferry system to be accountable for its primary function.”
Chief Charlie Krimmert followed Wallace. Afterward, he said spoke briefly about why he attended.
“Like it or not, Ferries is our partner in emergency care, and anything we can do to foster a more timely response from them is to everybody’s advantage,” he said.
During his testimony, he told the Transportation Commission members that he was there in support of implementing the Evans School recommendations for the benefit of all three communities on the Triangle Route.
He stressed that for Vashon, ferry sailings are not a convenience, as they are in some communities, but essential.
“If the state chooses to be the sole provider of access, it must constantly remind itself that it is the sole provider of access,” he said.
Regarding emergency medical transports, he said that he fears the new schedule will create more schedule disruptions as sailings from Vashon have been reduced and times between them vary dramatically.
As he discussed repeatedly during the schedule planning process, there is no system to get responders back to the island following a hospital transport.
“Our corps is not so large that these waits today do not have a negative impact on our service,” he said.
Emergencies, by their nature cannot be scheduled, he noted.
“However, a greater number of sailings evenly distributed across the day will best facilitate efficient and timely movement of crews off and back to the island,” he said.
He concluded his remarks by asking that ferry-reliant communities receive priority for service.
“I encourage this committee to do all in its power to facilitate the efficiency and growth, not to reduce, the service to boat-bound communities, such as Vashon,” he said.
Lubbert, who, in addition to serving as the chamber board, is a co-owner Vashon’s Nashi Orchards.
She said she was there representing the more than 270 business owners on the island, who are reliant on ferry service, but who do not have the resources to hire lobbyists or conduct their own economic impact analysis.
“What we do know is that there is a direct correlation between ferry service and our business survival on Vashon,” she said.
In fact, she added, many business owners say 60 percent of their business depends on the mainland or tourism to Vashon.
She noted that the wedding industry on the island had been flourishing, but following the 2017 implementation of new loading procedures at the Fauntleroy dock, bookings have declined 25 percent.
“Long wait lines frustrate customers, and what happens is they turn around and do not even look at our venues,” she said.
She noted that Ferries made operational changes with no input from the island’s business community. She added that the examples she cited illustrate what could happen with the proposed March ferry schedule and that businesses are at the heart of Vashon.
“Damaging our businesses damages our community,” she said.
She joined her island colleagues in asking the legislators to implement the recommendations of the Evans School and for a stay of the schedule until there can be an economic analysis for all three communities on the Triangle Route.
Stockett spoke last, after Rep. Young asked if there had been outreach to the chamber of commerce in Port Orchard.
“The good news of what we are asking for is it would improve the sailings to all the communities,” he said, specifically noting that Southworth would benefit from increased sailings.
He asked for what he termed a “small amount”of funding for TRAC to “fast track” an analysis of how to speed up the at-dock time of ferries. He noted that WSF conducts 180,000 sailings a year and loads 36 million people on and off boats. If just one second could be saved for each of those people, increased sailings would bring in a minimum of 5 percent more revenue, or $10 million per year.
“A small amount of funding to pilot on the triangle route could be accomplished and could have very, very significant results,” he said.
Looking ahead, Wallace said he is considering ways to create visible public support for implementing the Evans School recommendations and passing HB1189.
Finally, separate from the effort in Olympia, another ferry activist on the island has created a video and a survey that he hopes islanders will fill out and return by Feb. 13. He asked to remain anonymous, but is someone who has followed ferry issues for some time. He said he is planning to share the results with Washington State Ferries and the Washington State Transportation Commission. The survey is short and asks for an email address, where respondents live, if WSF listened to community input in creating its new schedule, if people anticipate the schedule will meet their needs, how often people ride the Triangle Route and why people use ferries. Find the survey and video at triangleroute.surge.sh.