Ferry advisory panel objects to potential schedule changes

After holding two meetings about the draft schedule changes Washington State Ferries recently presented, the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee has sent a letter asking WSF to consider a number of points before proceeding with further schedule work.

On Aug, 15. WSF presented two schedule options to a joint meeting of the Triangle Task Force and the three ferry advisory committees. Among the potential changers were morning sailings from Fauntleroy to Vashon that have a “layover” in Southworth and afternoon sailings between Vashon and Fauntleroy that also have a Southworth layover. Direct sailings between Vashon and Fauntleroy in the afternoon would be greatly reduced in both options compared to the current schedule.

Committee members worked over the weekend to draft a letter to WSF, outlining their concerns and those they heard from the community.

“At this time, the VFAC (Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee) cannot support either of the two options as neither balances the various user needs on Vashon Island, and we presume this would be true of the Southworth community as well,” the letter states.

They also ask WSF to clearly articulate the goals and objectives of the schedule change with metrics that can measure success; engage with all user groups, including the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce, Vashon Island School District and Vashon Island Fire & Rescue; and provide data on how the proposed schedule meets or exceeds schedule-change objectives.

“The economic consequences of any schedule change should be weighed carefully both for WSF and the communities it serves,” the letter also states.

Further, the authors — Greg Beardsley, Eric Beckman and Justin Hirsch — say they believe that there could be value in delaying the creation of a new schedule until after the University of Washington study is complete.

Additional points in the letter include that one of the schedules would hamper gas delivery to the island and that neither schedule reflects the travel needs of school district students and staff who commute to the island. Finally, the authors state that while Vashon has many commuters, there are also many island residents and employees who would be poorly served by some of the potential changes

“Both options impose a significant time penalty for anyone in non-peak directions,” they wrote.

About 55 people attended the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee’s meetings last week on Wednesday and Thursday, including Dennis Williams of Williams Heating.

“Option 2 would increase gas prices on the island by at least a nickel,” he said at the Wednesday meeting, quickly drawing everyone’s attention.

Following the meeting, he explained that currently at least once a week, to get gas for the island, they send trucks off on the earliest ferry to Seattle. It is a so-called “deadhead” run, used because no other vehicles are legally allowed on the ferry with a gas truck. The drivers fill the delivery trucks with gas for several island businesses and return on the 7:25 a.m. “hazmat” boat back to the island — again alone.

In Option 2 of the schedule, the hazmat sailing is moved to 6:15 a.m. The gas trucks could not get to that boat in time, requiring the drivers to take the last boat at night to catch that early sailing. This would increase cost and cause other logistical problems as well. Williams has written WSF with his concerns and encouraged officials there to speak with other hazmat carriers to the island.

School superintendent Slade McSheehy was also at the Wednesday night meeting and raised concerns. Like Williams’ points, his are now reflected in the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee’s letter. He said the district has more than 240 off-island students, who generate $2.1 million for the district, and about 80 employees who commute. School district personnel have said that the morning and afternoon sailings WSF left in place for school students are not sufficient for the district’s needs. McSheehy stated he was surprised by the potential schedule changes because the district had recently met with about a dozen ferry personnel, and the subject of a schedule change did not come up.

“They did not mention this at all, not once,” he said.

Social media was abuzz on Thursday and Friday with islanders urging one another to write WSF and share their concerns immediately. WSF had originally asked for comments at the end of the month — which was last Friday, although WSF spokeswoman Hadley Rodero had also indicated later responses would be acceptable. The schedule must be finalized by December; it is slated to go into effect next June, when a new larger boat joins the triangle route.

Last Friday, with emails filling her inbox, Rodero said that decisions on the schedule were not imminent and that people did not need to rush to get their comments in immediately. She also said the person working on the schedule would receive all the comments to assist him with revisions before a version is presented to the public later this fall. She did not give a date that WSF would like comments by, but previously she had said “as soon as possible” to help form revisions.

“We are definitely not there yet. We have not gotten to a schedule that works for everybody,” she said last week.

Rodero has previously explained that the schedule changes were based on the work of the Triangle Route Improvement Task Force, and the goals that came from its work — including more dual destination sailings in the afternoon and direct eastbound sailings in the morning — and the three community meetings held last fall. Beyond that, she said more outreach is planned for the next few months.

WSF will hold a meeting on Vashon later this month about its long-range plan and expects to hold a meeting on the draft schedule — which may be like option one or two or different than either — in October. It will be followed by a formal public comment period, Rodero said.

In the meantime, the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee is asking people with concerns about the proposals to send them to roderoh@wsdot.wa.gov and copy Beardsley at GregsFAC@centurytel.net as well the island’s legislators at Joe.Fitzgibbon@leg.wa.gov, Eileen.Cody@leg.wa.gov and Sharon.Nelson@leg.wa.gov.

Below is the full text that the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee sent to Washington State Ferries regarding the draft schedule concepts.

“Vashon Island is a community wholly dependent on the ferry system to access services that are not available on the island. The Vashon community requires the ferry as an all-day service and any schedule for the triangle route must balance peak v. non-peak use; majority movements v. minor movements; as well as commercial needs v. commuter needs.

The Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee (VFAC) has spent a number of hours in three separate meetings over the past two weeks engaging directly with our community members to obtain feedback on the two draft concepts. At this time the VFAC cannot support either of the two options as neither balances the various user need on Vashon Island and we presume this would be true of the Southworth community as well. We believe it is in the communities best interest for Washington State Ferries (WSF) to take a step back on the schedule development and re-engage based on the following:

A. Clear articulation of the goals and objectives of making a schedule change include metrics that

can measure the relative success of a new schedule.

B. Outreach and engagement with all user groups to understand their unique needs and

challenges. This should include but not be limited to:

• Ferry riders throughout the daily schedule

• Vashon Chamber of Commerce

• Vashon School District

• The Harbor School

• Vashon Island Fire and Rescue

• Williams Heating

• King County (Roads, Parks, Solid Waste, Waste Water)

C. Data both current and forecast that will demonstrate how the proposed schedule meets or

exceeds the objectives laid out in the first bullet point. These could include carrying capacity in the peak hours being realistic about the limitation of processing at Fauntleroy; travel time in the peak direction; travel time in the off-peak direction; and cost of operation if that is appropriate. The economic consequences of any schedule should be weighed carefully both for WSF and the communities it serves.

The VFAC also feels that there could be real value in awaiting the results of the University of Washington study before crafting a new schedule. This independent review of the triangle route may reveal information or perspectives that are not apparent to those who have been close to the challenges for an extended period.

Specific questions and concerns to the two draft schedule options:

Appreciating the two boats that meet school buses were preserved in both options. There is no consideration for students that have after-school activities; faculty whose schedule extends later in the day (60% of VISD instructors live outside the district) and K-5 students who have a later release time.

The longer window in Option 2 for the hazard boat seems beneficial on the surface but the early morning westbound sailing would require the fuel trucks to be sent over the night before in order to load and meet the 06:15 sailing. This has been conservative, estimated to add an additional 5 cents to every gallon of fuel sold on the Island.

The Vashon Island School District has approximately 240 students from outside the District. These students represent about $2.1 M in additional revenue for the District enriching the quality of the education experience for all students. Schedule changes, which make it more difficult for students to attend VISD, will impact the ability to maintain this critical revenue stream.

Vashon Island has a large commuter population but additionally, we have a significant portion of our community that uses the Ferry system outside the peak commute time. Vashon based employees, work from home professionals, stay at home parents and retirees use the system through the late morning and early afternoon to access goods and services located off the island. Both options impose a significant time penalty for anyone traveling in the non-peak direction.”

— Vashon FAC Greg Beardsley, Justin Hirsch & Eric Beckman.

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