Ferries: Comments from islanders to help with long-term plan

Ferries: Comments from islanders to help with long-term plan

At the ferry meeting last week, a crowd of some 60 islanders provided their thoughts

At the ferry meeting last week, a crowd of some 60 islanders provided their thoughts about improvements to the triangle route, and their suggestions will help inform the work of a task force the ferry system is creating to address the route’s problems.

The Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route repeatedly raised riders’ ire last summer with frequent late sailings, long lines and boats that left the dock partially full. Ferry chief Lynne Griffith, who opened and closed last Wednesday’s meeting, told those gathered that Washington State Ferries (WSF) employees share riders’ frustration with the troublesome three-destination route, which she said accounts for 60 percent of missed trips system- wide.

“This is a high priority that we turn this around,” she told those gathered.

At Griffith’s request, for the first hour of the 90-minute meeting, those who attended made suggestions, both verbally and in writing, for each of the three docks on the route. Ferry officials also conducted meetings in Southworth and Fauntleroy and will transcribe all the comments and email them this week to those who attended. Comments will also be posted on the WSF website. This way, officials said, members of each of the communities can see what the top concerns, questions and ideas regarding changes are across the route.

On Friday, Brian Mannion, a WSF spokesman, said people had different views on how various aspects of service should be changed, sometimes in direct conflict with one another.

“People have varying perspectives. What works for some people does not work for others. This is a thread we have seen through all of this in different forms, he said.

The Vashon meeting drew the largest crowd, he added, with both the Fauntleroy and Southworth meetings drawing about 20 people each. In Southworth, several comments focused on desired schedule changes, while in Fauntleroy, parking and traffic are perennial issues, Mannion added. On Vashon, the bulk of islanders’ comments were aimed at improvements at Fauntleroy, and by the end of the meeting, a multitude of Post-it Notes containing a variety of suggestions nearly covered the large aerial photo of the dock WSF had provided for that purpose.

Many people stressed that they want pre-ticketed passengers to be able to move ahead of those buying tickets at the kiosk, while others said that they want a more efficient way of processing passengers than the current technology and process allows. Jar Lyons was among them. He said at Fauntleroy during rush hour, the inability to quickly move traffic off the street and onto the dock means that boats leave before they are filled. His suggestion: Replace the staffed ticket booths at Fauntleroy with GoodToGo lanes — one for Vashon and one for Southworth. Also, eliminate passenger fares and collect fares only for vehicles. Mark VanDeVanter spoke along similar lines, saying that the processing of passengers in cars contributes to the bottleneck at the end of the dock, and he suggested that the ferry system study the cost, in time and money, of capturing revenue from them, when they do not cost the system anything to travel in a car that would be on board anyway.

“I would strongly advocate for doing the science behind how much some things cost, including the current system of non-automated tolling,” he said following the meeting.

Following a different line of thought, Justin Hirsch, who has experience in the maritime industry, advocated hiring another police officer to work at Fauntleroy so that one could direct traffic and the other could help manage the flow of cars coming onto the dock. Longtime islander Sig Mordre developed a plan at least three years ago that he shared with the former chief, Ray Deardorf, and provided again at the meeting last week. He calls it the “Fauntleroy Loop,” a system of one-way streets that he believes would solve the the problems involved with loading and unloading in the busy neighborhood.

In addition to comments about Fauntleroy, several people weighed in about the Vashon dock. Mannion said many commenters are supportive of the new striping there, believing the new layout enhances safety, while others say they would prefer it returned to its previous format. The next major step, now that the Ferries three listening meetings are complete, will be to create a task force to consider all the comments, which will likely include more public meetings, and make recommendations to be implemented. Following the meeting, Mannion said Ferries wants the group to be made up equally of people from each of the destinations on the route and include users and stakeholders: frequent commuters, people who live by the Fauntleroy terminal, parents of school students that commute and people who are elderly or disabled.

“We are trying to get as broad a perspective as possible,” he said.

He added that Ferries is working on specifics of the formation of the group this fall, with the intent of having members ready to begin working in the new year and plans in place for the peak summer season. One of the lessons he learned through this process, Mannion said, is that Ferries needs to do a better job of communicating some of its challenges and constraints to the public, including what drives some of its decisions. He added that he hopes the creation of the task force, with its meetings open to the public, will help in this process, while also building collective knowledge. Overall, Mannion called the meeting a good first step.

“We received many diverse and sometimes conflicting ideas. That is a very good sign that we are getting everybody’s opinions,” he said.

On Vashon, however, Greg Beardsley, who heads the island’s Ferry Advisory Committee was less enthusiastic about the evening, saying that WSF had not respected the process behind the three years of planning that went into a change at the dock last spring, but something different was implemented, to poor results.

“Their people brought up an idea we thought was wonderful, and it bore no resemblance with what they took to the public,” he said. “They did not follow that plan. It became a fiasco.”

Moreover, he said, getting opinions about change from the public, many of whom do not know a great deal about the subject matter, is not always helpful.

“Most people have not spent the time to understand the constraints that are placed on the route, from boats, to Fauntleroy issues with the city, community and dock, so their suggestions — there may be some valid ones, but I

do not know that any of them are possible,” he said. “It will be interesting to see where it goes. A lot of us know what has to be done to make it work. And at the present time ferries does not seem to want to do that.”

To make comments to Washington State Ferries, email wsfcomms@wsdot.wa.gov.

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