New ferry schedule warrants island attention

  • Wednesday, February 27, 2019 1:56pm
  • Opinion

In just about a month, the new ferry schedule will go into effect, and it will be important for islanders to understand — for ourselves — both the successes and the challenges it creates.

Washington State Ferries has said it will monitor the schedule closely, but after the bruising nature of the schedule planning process, it is clear we will not be able to count on Washington State Ferries to seriously consider and act on islanders’ needs.

Greg Beardsley, who heads the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee, said he believes it is a necessity to track the new schedule and any problems it creates.

“We will have to identify the challenges it places on individuals, fire and the schools, and collate that and hope that somebody can have some influence,” he said, also noting the possibility of economic losses to the island with reduced service from Vashon to Fauntleroy.

The question now, though, is who can step up to this large task?

Beardsley noted that doing so exceeds the abilities of the three-member Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee. He mentioned that the island’s former Community Council, which had a Transportation Committee with people and a small budget, could likely have taken on such a project.

Broad concerns about the ferry schedule — and the possibility of no clear entity to keep track of problems and advocate for islanders’ needs — provides another example of why we would like to see the re-creation of a new council.

Certainly it is possible that the new schedule will be implemented with few problems. But it is also possible that there will be several challenges that arise that could easily be invisible — unless there is a concerted outreach effort to ask for and collect people’s experiences and maintain relevant data.

Ferry news has receded from the headlines in recent weeks, but many islanders’ concerns about what comes next are clear in a review of the comments submitted to Washington State Ferries between the meeting in West Seattle on Dec. 12 and WSF’s release of the new schedule, unchanged, roughly one week later. WSF received more than 220 comments during that window, more than 50 pages worth. The vast majority were from islanders. More than 70 percent mentioned support for a more thorough vetting or implementation of the pendulum schedule. But many others reflected a variety of concerns — worry about reaching off-island medical services, for example, and the possibility that reduced evening runs will make it harder for Vashon businesses to attract both employees and tourists. In fact, more than 20 comments included concerns about the evening schedule, which has ferries leaving from Vashon to Fauntleroy at 6:45 p.m. and then not again until 8:20, while vessels traveling from Southworth to Fauntleroy sail by — largely empty.

It is possible that the county’s new Local Services Department — which aims to improve governmental services to unincorporated areas — might be able to assist with this ferry work in some way. We expect to know more later this month about that possibility. In the mean time, we should assume that the responsibility to track local effects of the schedule will fall to us and start making plans accordingly.

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