Washington State Ferries Government Relations Director John Vezina talks with islanders at the ferry schedule meeting last week. (Susan Riemer/Staff Photo)

Washington State Ferries Government Relations Director John Vezina talks with islanders at the ferry schedule meeting last week. (Susan Riemer/Staff Photo)

Proposed ferry schedule falls short for many islanders

After the Washington State Ferries meeting last week, ferry officials are encouraging those who have not provided feedback on the schedule to do so, while advocates of the pendulum schedule are pressing for further exploration of it, as well as operational efficiencies to improve overall service.

Approximately 160 people signed into the Oct. 24 meeting at Vashon High School, where Washington State Ferries had information stations set up and staff available to talk to those who attended. The schedule change is intended to move more traffic through Fauntleroy during rush hour, improve eastbound morning service for Southworth riders and provide more time for a larger ferry — scheduled to begin service next spring — to load and unload. Preliminary schedules released last August drew an outcry from islanders, who were upset to see morning sailings from Fauntleroy to Vashon that had a “layover” in Southworth and afternoon sailings between Vashon and Fauntleroy with the same detour. In this latest schedule, many of those “layover” sailings were removed, although two remained between Vashon and Fauntleroy in the evening, more than doubling the length of the trip, and overall evening sailings from Vashon were reduced by three trips.

WSF officials say they believe this schedule, which also makes each rush hour trip from Fauntleroy a dual-destination sailing in effort to avoid bottlenecks there, meets their objectives.

“We feel the proposed schedule we brought out gives us as much capacity as we can, while staying on time,” said WSF planner Justin Resnick. “We are trying to set expectations and meet them.”

At last week’s meeting, however, many islanders voiced disappointment, particularly regarding the evening reduction of service. At a table where several islanders were filling out comment forms, islander Steve Bergman was among those speaking up about the decreased service.

“I think it is punishing Vashon,” he said.

Direct evening connectivity between Southworth and Vashon has also been reduced in this proposed schedule, with some boats bypassing Vashon to get back quickly to Fauntleroy to address traffic there. Trudy Rosemarin, sitting at the table next to Bergman, spoke about that aspect of the schedule, saying she often goes to the Olympics, and will have a substantially longer trip back. Similarly, after the meeting, one woman posted on Facebook that her husband’s commute will grow by more than an hour home from his job on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Greg Beardsley, the longtime head of the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee, has also raised concerns. He noted that Vashon is losing 75-car spots in vehicle allotments between 6:45 and 7:55 a.m. from Vashon to Fauntleroy. Those spaces are added back in between 7:55 and 9 a.m., which may be too late for many commuters, he said. He is also concerned that with no operational changes at Fauntleroy and a first-come, first-served loading method, islanders will not fare well on their rush hour trips home, with the increase in Southworth traffic.

“My biggest concern is that Southworth cars will take over and Vashon cars will get stuck in line,” Beardsley said.

WSF’s Resnick does not believe that will be the case.

“Vashon has the majority of ridership, so we do not see any cause for concern,” he said.

Several islanders expressed frustration not just with elements of the schedule, but with the format of the meeting itself, which did not include a presentation or a general question and answer period.

“I was hoping for a town hall meeting, something more organized. I wanted to hear what, as a community, people’s thoughts were and have the opportunity to stand up and voice our concerns,” said islander Tammi Pickett. “I am floored to see this is what the meeting is.”

When WSF released the two draft schedules in August, representatives from the school district, chamber of commerce and fire department spoke up.

Following the release of this version, school Superintendent Slade McSheehy said that because the latest schedule is largely similar to the current schedule, the district does not foresee major travel disruptions for students or employees. He added that the district has some questions about the reduced evening schedule, but does not have enough information to know if there will be a significant impact.

Last Friday, Cheryl Lubbert, a chamber board member and co-owner of Nashi Orchards, shared her perspective. Lubbert, also the CEO of a health communications and technology business, was featured on a KIRO news segment about the proposed schedule changes.

As a chamber board member, she said she is concerned with the economic health of the island and does not believe WSF considered the effects on businesses before suggesting such a substantial change to the evening schedule.

As she did in the KIRO segment, she stated that many off-island people work in island businesses, and she suspects that lengthening their travel time for the trip home may make finding employees even more difficult. She added that she expects reduced service off the island might also affect tourism, which is essential to many island businesses. She noted it would be nearly impossible to measure how many people decide not to make the trip over.

“We won’t know if they don’t come,” she said.

Lubbert expressed interest in the pendulum schedule, which two different islanders have proposed at separate times in the last year.

“We cannot roll over on this,” she added.

At the fire department, Chief Charlie Krimmert is also a supporter of further study regarding the pendulum schedule, which would have vessels rotating among the stops on the triangle route on a regular basis throughout the day.

“I believe that the pendulum schedule has far more merit than the current proposal and should be investigated, if not implemented,” he said last week.

WSF officials have said that if the fire department needs to get someone to a Seattle hospital, they will re-route a ferry to make that happen, including during the evening schedule when boats are slated to bypass Vashon. Krimmert said WSF does a good job with picking up medical emergencies, but he also is concerned about getting paramedics and emergency medical technicians back to the island. He stressed the predictably and frequency of boats is extremely important to the fire district and is a benefit of the pendulum schedule, over the traditional ferry schedule, which can have long gaps between vessels.

The fire department has seen a large increase in medical transports over the years, from 271 in 2005 to 867 in 2016, a 319 percent jump. Last year, transports were down a bit; this year, there have been more than 600 transports so far, the vast majority through Fauntleroy. Krimmert said the district has also had a substantial increase in concurrent calls, making it important that department personnel are on the island — not on a ferry dock — and able to respond.

One of the information boards at last week’s open house stated that WSF considered the pendulum schedule, but found overall that it would not serve riders well. In a Monday phone conversation this week, Resnick said he has tried two versions of that schedule, including one islander Steve Stockett provided to him last week, but found it not workable within WSF’s parameters and that capacity would be lost.

Stockett, who says he has been working on such a schedule for 18 months, disagrees with Resnick’s premise and said he planned to send Resnick an “optimized” version Tuesday morning.

“I have a schedule that works perfectly and accounts for all Ferries’ requirements, including shift changes, and provides a sailing every 35 minutes during rush hour and more quickly when it is not rush hour,” he said.

Islander Rick Wallace is working with Stockett on this effort, which includes suggestions regarding operational efficiencies to move vehicle and pedestrian traffic on and off the boats more quickly. Their suggestions include acquiring license plate reader cameras capable of sizing vehicles and counting passengers, developing safe procedures to simultaneously load and unload vehicles and pedestrians, and performing sewage dumps at low traffic hours to reduce effects on the schedule.

The two men have met with members of the University of Washington Evans School, which is conducting a study at Fauntleroy, and are engaged in further outreach, including to state legislators and Southworth passengers.

“We think we have a solution that will satisfy everyone in all three communities,” Wallace said. “That is the goal: to make a difference in everyone’s satisfaction with the service.”

Looking ahead, WSF spokesperson Hadley Rodero encouraged people to send in their comments by Nov. 9. Following that date, she said WSF will compile comments, possibly make adjustments to the schedule based on the comments and share that version with the Triangle Route Improvement Task Force and Ferry Advisory Committees, with a final schedule due out at the end of the year and implemented in March.

Review the proposed schedule here. Review meeting materials from last week here. Email comments to wsfplanning@wsdot.wa.gov by Nov. 9.

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