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Concern is mounting over the size of the new PO boats
By KARI ULATOSKI
For The Beachcomber
A focus group comprised of interested passenger-only (PO) ferry riders gathered on Saturday, Feb. 21, to meet with a number of King County Ferry District representatives.
The county, which took over responsibility for the PO boat last July, was seeking feedback regarding transit connections on both the Vashon and Seattle side of the route and the possibility of resuming PO boat weekend runs.
Some creative solutions were presented to the ferry reps; focus group participants suggested, for instance, a compromise between additional transit service and a bi-monthly weekend run with a late Friday boat. The group was also asked about customer service issues, something that county is concentrating on. One Vashon resident requested better, speedier notification of boat delays or outages, so that he could figure out how best to get to work.
The elephant in the room was concern about the capacity of the boats the county’s new Ferry District is proposing. The county plans to lease three boats; one will be used for the run, one will be a backup, and the third will be used to demo trials in other areas of the county, such as a trip from Kirkland to the University of Washington.
The catch, however, is that these three new boats will have a capacity of fewer than 150 people, considerably smaller than the current PO boat, which can fit 230 to 240 passengers.
The PO boat is often nearly full and sometimes at capacity during significant events, such as the winter storms that led to the closure of the West Seattle Bridge. To deal with the situation, some West Seattle commuters rode the big boat to Vashon and then took the PO boat to downtown Seattle.
Smaller boats, even with an additional run both ways, are a real concern for both Vashon and Kitsap passengers. Looking at recent ridership reports, there are several days a week where capacity exceeds 150 on the 7 a.m. run. In its heyday, the PO boat carried well over 200 people on the 7 a.m. runs throughout the week and averaged close to 180 most days.
The current relatively low number of passengers, compared to those high numbers of several years ago, is due not just to the increase in fares but also to the 60 percent reduction in service.
Additionally, adding an extra run won’t make up for the fact that people who must be at work at a specific time may be left on the dock. The county’s current plans leave some questions about whether there will be adequate capacity during special events or whether the backup boat will be added.
The county ferry district also announced to the focus group that it would be adapting the ORCA card, a multi-use payment card that will be rolling out sometime this summer for Metro riders, PO boat riders and passengers taking the car ferry. Hopefully, it will provide convenience in paying for the various types of transit options.
Fares each way were also discussed at this meeting, which would help increase the farebox recovery rate for the county and make taking the passenger ferry one way from Seattle more affordable.
The county ferry district will make a presentation at the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council meeting on March 16, where county officials plan to discuss many of the issues the focus group participants brought up.
They want our feedback. PO boat riders are encouraged to bring questions and find out more about what the county is planning as it gears up to take on the PO boat service, a vital link for all of us on Vashon. Currently, the county ferry district is scheduled to assume responsibility for operating the ferries sometime in July 2009.
The focus group will be forwarding its concerns to them in advance, with the hope that they will come up with a better solution. Perhaps a back-to-back run with the backup boat, if not a larger boat, would be an option.
— Kari Ulatoski chairs the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s
To send questions you’d like the county’s new ferry district to address, call Kari Ulatoski at 567-0587.