FERRIES: Loading changes at Fauntleroy yeild `flat’ results, will continue

The loading procedures implemented at Fauntleroy one month ago that were hoped to be a “quick win” created no real improvement in the number of cars processed through the dock, according to Washington State Ferries officials.

In the 30 days the new measures, which included a “splitter” directing traffic at the booths and destination cards, were in place, islanders’ tempers flared as boats continued leaving partially full and long lines continued up Fauntleroy Way. Now, longtime members of Vashon’s Ferry Advisory Committee are fearing a service reduction through schedule changes.

Ferries officials presented the data from those 30 days at a Triangle Route Improvement Task Force meeting earlier this month. They said a mistake in early calculations made the changes initially seem more promising than they were. After a four-day pilot in May, Ferries reported that the approach moved an average of 85 more cars between 3 and 6 p.m. each weekday compared to baseline data. That number was later determined to be incorrect. In reality, during the May pilot, the measures resulted in fewer cars being moved through the booths: 739 compared to the 744 baseline number.

Washington State Ferries (WSF) spokespeople said the error was due to one scanner’s data not being loaded into the initial calculations.

Despite the error during the pilot, Brian Mannion, a WSF spokesman, said that after 30 days of implementation, the new procedures “didn’t make it better, but didn’t make it worse” at the Fauntleroy dock.

Daily ticket redemptions from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday from the third week of June to the third week of July rose from 635 in 2016 to 638.5 this year, according to the presentation Ferries gave at the Aug. 10 task force meeting.

“From an operational perspective, that’s flat,” Mannion said. “We would’ve liked to see an improvement, but we didn’t.”

The procedures will remain in effect, though, as the task force would like to see more data, especially as summer traffic decreases. The new approach also removes the troublesome handheld scanners that sometimes don’t register tickets. Scanning all tickets at the tollbooth sets the dock up for ticket redemption from mobile devices — a feature WSF is working on and hoped to roll out this month. The summer kickoff won’t happen, and a release date is not known, though Mannion said WSF is planning on making it possible for customers to purchase tickets and have them scanned on mobile devices.

The Fauntleroy measures were supposed to improve vehicle processing at the overloaded dock — the first priority for members of the Triangle Route Improvement Task Force which now has only one Vashon member after two resigned earlier this summer. That member, Steve Merkel, said Friday that toll booths and the Fauntleroy dock will “remain a critical component” of what the task force was created to look into, but discussions in upcoming meetings will turn to the route’s sailing schedule. However, he and WSF officials are adamant that any scheduling changes will go through the Ferry Advisory Committees and the public comment process just as they always have.

“Schedule is going to be one of the main topics we’re going to be diving deeper into,” Merkel said.

Meanwhile, Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee members Greg Beardsley and Jan Stephens believe a schedule change that would reduce Vashon sailings is on the horizon.

“The truth is they (WSF) are basically pushing to change the schedule,” Beardsley said after attending the Aug. 10 task force meeting.

He says a schedule change to allow for more time to load boats — called “dwell time” — won’t change the current problem of partially filled boats because the tollbooths are causing a bottleneck and solutions need to focus there.

“More dwell time won’t matter if you can’t get the cars through the booths,” he said.

WSF’s Mannion agreed, saying that the problem of partially filled boats comes down to getting the needed cars to the dock.

“If you have a Southworth boat with, say, 200 spots, but there are 100 Vashon cars that show up on the dock, that boat could sit there for hours and not go anywhere,” he said. “You would have 60 Vashon cars on the dock and another 40 in line before you even get to the first Southworth car. The goal is to make sure you get people through.”

He said the partially filled boats are also due to the ever-increasing size of boats on the Triangle Route. In 2015, the route had two 124-car Issaquah-class ferries with the third vessel being either the 87-car Evergreen State, the tiny 34-vehicle Hiyu or 90-car Sealth. By 2016, the Hiyu and Evergreen were gone and the 90-car Sealth remained, bringing the total daily vehicle capacity on the route to the current 800 spaces, up from 763 in 2015.

And while the available vehicle capacity keeps increasing, so does the number of spaces filled. According to WSF’s Aug. 10 presentation, the current daily average number of spaces filled is 673, up from 644 in 2015 and 664 in 2016. The prevailing problem, according to Mannion is the number of filled spaces isn’t keeping up with those available.

“It is possible to move more cars and have more space. Is it frustrating? Absolutely,” he said. “It’s not true we’re moving fewer cars, we’re just not moving enough.”

The monthly average number of empty spaces on the triangle route this year is nearly 3,000, according to Ferries. The best year for full boats was in 2014 with the Sealth, Tillikum and Issaquah when the monthly average empty spaces was 978.

As for the bypass lane Beardsley, Stephens and many other islanders are advocating for a return to that which allowed pre-ticketed vehicles to bypass the booths by going down the dock’s exit lane, Mannion said not only is it unsafe for Ferries’ dock workers due to the blind turn into the tollbooth area, the outflow of the exit lanes and “cars coming from every direction,” but its use is limited.

“It only works when you can get the cars down (to the dock), when a boat isn’t unloading and when the dock isn’t full,” he said.

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