New members appointed to ferry advisory committee

King Councilmember Joe McDermott has appointed two new members to the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee, islanders Justin Hirsch and Eric Beckman.

The committees exist in all communities served by Washington State Ferries (WSF) and are mandated by state law to keep WSF informed of ferry problems the community is experiencing. Vashon’s committee recently had two openings, one to replace Jan Stephens, who resigned earlier this year, and one for a term that was expiring and had been filled for several years by Kari Ulatoski.

Both Hirsch and Beckman come to the committee with experience in transportation. Hirsch is a longshoreman at the Port of Seattle, with a 15-year history on the Seattle waterfront and experience in 10 different ports in Puget Sound and the Columbia River.

Beckman, a licensed engineer, is a deputy executive director at Sound Transit. His 25-year history in transportation includes rail, bus transit, marine freight and automobiles.

In a recent phone conversation, Hirsch offered a few suggestions for improvements on the Fauntleroy dock. One is to have an officer on a motorcycle work the line and sort people traveling to each destination. Another has to do with “dwell time,” the amount of time the boat is docked to offload and load. He suggested changing operating procedures when a boat starts to get behind schedule. In particular, he suggested loading all the cars first and holding all the walk-ons until the end, then putting the gate down and pulling away.

“You could probably pick up 120 or 180 seconds on each turnaround,” he said.

A particular concern he shared is around scheduling, particularly the potential for service reductions when a larger vessel is moved to the triangle route next year.

He added he would like the general feeling about WSF and the service itself to improve.

“I hope we can get past some of the bitterness and anger involved in our frustrating commutes to work together to find some common solutions,” he said.

Like Hirsch, Beckman said he has “some big and small thoughts” to move traffic more efficiently on the Fauntleroy dock, but declined to share them just yet, saying he realizes there are others with more expertise than he currently has.

Beckman has lived on the island for a year and a half and said he understands many islanders’ “passion and frustration” about ferry service.

He noted that there is a tremendous amount of energy around the north-end route, but that he is concerned about the south end as well.

He also recognizes that there are all types of ferry users and said that he hopes the public will become more involved with the work of the advisory group.

“I definitely want the conversation to be broader than three members on the committee,” he said.

Both Hirsch and Beckman said they would be willing to serve as the delegate from the committee to the Triangle Route Improvement Task Force, which is still meeting and is advising WSF on the proposed new schedule.

Greg Beardsley is the chair of the advisory committee, a position he has held for approximately the last 15 years. He spoke reservedly about the changes to the committee’s make up and about WSF itself.

Among his concerns, he said, is that the state’s attorney general recently determined that the advisory committees — made up of three or five volunteers — are subject to the state’s open public meeting laws. He noted that they are not given funding or assistance to comply and do not even have funds to rent meeting space. Outside of a meeting, he said they cannot talk to one another about ferry matters, because two people is considered a meeting.

As he has before, he noted dissatisfaction with procedures at Fauntleroy, with the absence of the bypass lane and the scanners, leaving all people to go through the tollbooths.

Melissa Bailey, a policy advisor to McDermott, provided information about the process of selecting Hirsch and Beckman last week.

Some years ago, Vashon’s Community Council appointed representatives to the committee, but the King County Council now make the appointments. She added that earlier this year the council created a process for advertising the position when a term ends and reviewing applications. A review panel was created to look at the applications and make recommendations to McDermott, who made the final decision based on those recommendations.

Approval of the two new committee members will go through the council process and will likely be finalized at the end of July. At that time, Beckman and Hirsch will officially start to serve. Beckman will complete a partial term that ends June 30 next year, and Hirsch is being appointed to a four-year term that will end on June 30, 2022.

“The Councilmember looks forward to the skills and perspectives these new members will bring to the Ferry Advisory Committee, including their understanding of transportation issues facing the island and their professional experience in transportation, transit and logistics,” Bailey said.

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