The Triangle Route Improvement Task Force has moved on from trying to create a quick fix for loading procedures at Fauntleroy to other measures meant to improve ferry service on the troublesome route, including changing the regular weekday and emergency two-boat schedules and the possibility of using one tollbooth for pre-ticketed vehicles only.
The nine-member group, which, as of last month, once again includes a full complement of representatives from Vashon, along with those from Fauntleroy and Southworth, will take up those matters when it meets again in December. Group members will also determine if they will disband in January, after fulfilling their one-year commitment, or if they will continue and provide input on issues such as the Ferries’ long-range plan, which is due to the Legislature in January of 2019; Fauntleroy dock construction slated for 2025 and schedule changes coming next year.
Those schedule changes are in anticipation of the 124-car Kitsap replacing the 90-car Sealth in 2019. Washington State Ferries (WSF) officials say the schedule must be changed because larger ferries take longer to load and unload than smaller ones and the current dwell times — the amount of time ferries are at the dock for unloading and loading — are not adequate. Moreover, they say that because traffic between Fauntleroy and Southworth has increased — more than 7 percent this year as a whole and more than 8 percent this summer — loading Vashon cars has become more difficult.
“A year from now we will have to have a new schedule,” WSF’s John Vezina told the task force at a meeting last week.
WSF’s Ray Deardorf provided the timeline for this change.
• Dec. 2017 to May 2018: Develop concepts and preliminary review.
• June to October 2018: Public outreach and revisions
• November 2018: Finalized schedule for transit partners
• January 2019: Release of final schedule
• Late March 2019: Schedule effective date.
Vezina promised that multiple groups will be consulted in the process, including the Legislature, Ferry Advisory Committees and the public. He stated that he believes the task force, too, could be beneficial in the process.
Regardless of whether or not they will continue into the new year, task force members are slated to consider schedule change possibilities that have arisen in their work thus far, including adding more dual-destination sailings from Fauntleroy in the afternoon commute hours and single-destination sailings eastbound in the morning or all the time. Additionally, the task force is considering the importance of filling the boats versus running on time. WSF spokeswoman Hadley Rodero said the changes the task force works on could be implemented as part of that larger schedule change next year and would not be implemented on their own before then.
Kari Ulatoski, who joined the task force last month, was the only representative from Vashon physically present at the meeting last Thursday; Steve Merkel attended via speaker phone, and Rich Singer, who also joined last month, was absent. Ulatoski, who has been involved with ferries for more than a decade and is a long-time member of Vashon’s Ferry Advisory Committee, noted many islanders are concerned with the potential effects of substantial schedule changes.
“The reason there is frustration and anxiety — a great deal of anxiety — is the fear that their needs will marginalized, that changes in the schedule, particularly given this summer, may threaten the ability for Vashon (passengers) to get on the vessel, especially westbound,” she said.
Both at the meeting and speaking afterward, Ulatoski said she would remain on the task force if its members decide to continue beyond January.
“I am committed to being a representative for Vashon,” she said.
She also said she plans to provide more community outreach on Vashon than has happened previously.
“If I’m going to take on this role, I do not want to do it in a silo based on my own personal experiences,” she said. “I would really appreciate having a sounding board.”
Merkel noted that he is concerned about “mission creep,” noting that the group’s initial purpose was to address summer problems at Fauntleroy. He added that if the group remains together, he hopes it would remain committed to addressing the “summer swell,” which was the primary reason the group was created. Like Ulatoski, he said he believes improved communications to the Vashon community would help with the understanding of who the group is and what their work is about.
Ulatoski said she agreed with his concern about mission, and following the meeting she stressed that summer problems will still exist next year and that she does not believe they have been adequately addressed.
“They (the task force members) have been there a year, and I don’t see the accomplishments,” she said. “We still have not gotten any quick fixes.”
She added that she has a lot of work to do to get caught up with the group and plans to meet with WSF’s Rodero and Vezina, who has replaced Director of Operations Greg Faust as the executive sponsor of the task force. She said she wants to learn what ideas members of the group proposed but had rejected, how WSF vetted the ideas before rejecting them and how the current practices and options were selected.
A small number of islanders attended the meeting. Among the islanders present was Cheryl Lubbert, who owns Nashi Orchards with her husband Jim Gerlach. Lubbert, who said she also owns a market research firm, is a Vashon-Maury Island chamber of commerce board member and recently conducted a survey regarding ferry impacts on island businesses. Some of those findings have been previously reported in the paper, but WSF officials had not received them. Lubbert shared some significant findings for the WSF officials present and members of the task force — and stressed the importance of ferries on the economic impact for island business.
Among the findings, she said, was that 80 percent of businesses reported an impact on their volume because of the ferry situation this summer and that 81 percent reported an impact on their operational costs, including lost wages for people sitting on the dock not able to get to work or not able to get back to work with supplies and freight.
“We are talking a lot about people commuting,” she said. “But there are businesses that pay sales tax, and there are businesses that pay property taxes to the state that are actually being dramatically impacted.”
She noted that she is among the business owners considering moving off the island because of the difficulty and extra expense that is associated with the unpredictably of the ferry system.
She added that she believes in unbiased data, but it is sometimes hard to come by.
“Quite frankly, we don’t know how many people turn around and never come. I think that this is the hardest part. It really does impact people’s livelihoods,” she said.
Rodero requested a copy of the survey, and Lubbert said she would provide one.
Coming up this week through email and online, WSF is expected to disseminate answers to questions that have arisen about the triangle route in recent months, including questions that islanders asked at WSF’s Vashon meeting in September.
The next two task force meetings are scheduled. They are set for 4:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, and Thursday, Jan. 18, at the Fauntleroy Church, 9140 California Ave. SW in West Seattle. The meetings are working meetings, but the public is welcome.