Ferry schedule: Service improvements for some, reductions on Vashon

At the recent meeting about the ferry schedule, islanders hold up signs showing how they use the ferry.	(John de Groen Photo)

At the recent meeting about the ferry schedule, islanders hold up signs showing how they use the ferry. (John de Groen Photo)

More than 260 people turned out for the meeting last week regarding the proposed new triangle route ferry schedule, exceeding the room’s capacity and leaving many individuals outside, waiting for a chance to participate in the proceedings.

Inside the Fauntleroy Church, Washington State Ferries (WSF) convened a working meeting with members of the Triangle Route Improvement Task Force and the three related ferry advisory committees. Their focus at the Dec. 12 meeting was the third iteration of a new schedule, which is slated to be finalized this week and go into effect in March.

At the recent meeting about the ferry schedule, islanders hold up signs showing how they use the ferry.	(John de Groen Photo)

At the recent meeting about the ferry schedule, islanders hold up signs showing how they use the ferry. (John de Groen Photo)

In the draft released last week, all routes are slated for changes and all will see the same or increased number of sailings throughout the day, except for Vashon to Fauntleroy, which is slated for a decrease in sailings. At Fauntleroy, all sailings in the afternoon/evening commute will go to both Vashon and Southworth to ease the bottleneck that forms at the toll booths, making “every car the right car” to get on a boat. Southworth will receive better connectivity to the King County foot ferry and three additional departures to Fauntleroy. Daily sailings from Vashon to Southworth will increase from 20 to 24. Vashon to Fauntleroy, however, will see a decrease of four sailings per day, from 34 to 30, unless further changes to the schedule are made. Those reductions are largely from the afternoon/evening schedule, including a gap in service from Vashon between 6:45 p.m. and 8:20 p.m.

Following the meeting, WSF’s Hadley Rodero said those afternoon/evening changes are intended to get boats back as quickly as possible from Southworth to Fauntleroy to clear vehicles moving in the peak travel pattern.

“Our goal is to put the capacity where it needs to be (during peak hours) and still maintain connectivity and fill in gaps as much as possible,” she said.

But some islanders have raised concerns about the latest proposal, including Greg Beardsley, the longtime head of Vashon’s Ferry Advisory Committee.

“I am disappointed Ferries has chosen to give capacity to a community that has alternatives and taken it away from a community that is solely dependent on ferries for access to the world,” he said.

Overall, WSF has said the new schedule will help make loading at Fauntleroy more orderly and improve service reliability for customers.

Last week, Rodero traced the history of the schedule changes to fall 2017, when WSF held community meetings about the triangle route after a difficult summer of ferry travel. The message WSF received then, Rodero said, was that ferry officials needed to fix Fauntleroy in the afternoons, address boats leaving partially empty when vehicles were waiting and provide capacity for Southworth travelers to get to work in Seattle between 8 and 9 a.m.

Last August, WSF released two versions of a preliminary draft, which drew an outcry from islanders, largely because of a lack of outreach on the island and deeply unpopular “layover” sailings that would have at times taken passengers between Vashon and Fauntleroy via Southworth. In October, WSF released another draft, accompanied by open houses in each of the communities and a public comment period, with nearly 340 comments submitted.

Those comments focused on the following, Rodero said: operations at the Fauntleroy terminal; Vashon evening sailings to Fauntleroy via Southworth; loss of Southworth direct sailings in the afternoon commute, the pendulum schedule, emergency access for Vashon, a morning gap in service for Southworth and growth in Kitsap County.

At last week’s meeting, WSF planner Justin Resnick reviewed the resulting changes he made based on those comments. They include the removal of evening layover sailings from Vashon and adding a 6:45 p.m. sailing to Fauntleroy; adding a morning departure from Southworth to Fauntleroy and adding the 4:10 p.m. departure from Fauntleroy. While not discussed at the meeting, that sailing will get Vashon passengers to the island later than the next sailing from Fauntleroy, which leaves at 4:35 p.m.

WSF planner Justin Resnick talks to the crowd at the recent meeting. (John de Groen Photo)

WSF planner Justin Resnick talks to the crowd at the recent meeting. (John de Groen Photo)

On the whole, the task force and advisory committee members from Fauntleroy and Southworth said they were impressed with the schedule, the recent adjustments and WSF’s consideration of the needs of all three communities.

The majority of Vashon’s representatives at the meeting, Rich Singer, Greg Beardsley, Steve Merkel, Erik Beckman and Justin Hirsch, raised a variety of issues, including that WSF should give the pendulum route model, championed by islanders Steve Stockett and Rick Wallace, a fair hearing; that dwell time on Vashon may be too short and that WSF needs to be clear on how unforeseen problems the schedule creates will be addressed.

Hirsch, a member of the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee, stood and addressed members of the public. He stated that he sees some improvements in the schedule, including the elimination of single-destination sailings, which have long troubled dock workers.

“It will allow us to more efficiently use our public resources,” he said.

He also stated that he does not see the proposed schedule as the “apocalypse some perceive it to be.”

He, like others at the meeting, said that even with schedule improvements, considerable challenges remain at Fauntleroy and that growth from Southworth is likely. He cautioned that a further chipping away of Vashon’s service would not be welcome.

“That I am certain will not be received well by island residents,” he said to applause.

He also singled out Stockett and Wallace for their work on the pendulum schedule, a model for the triangle route they have been advocating for for months. It would serve each community on the route with departures every 35 minutes throughout the day and night.

WSF’s Ray Deardorf addressed the pendulum model directly, saying it would not provide sufficient capacity in peak periods. From 4:55 a.m. to 8:55 a.m. the proposed schedule has 10 arrivals at Fauntleroy, accommodating 1,200 vehicles, he said. The pendulum model has only seven arrivals in that period, accommodating 840 vehicles. Similarly, from 3 to 7:35 p.m., the proposed schedule would have 10 departures from Fauntleroy while the pendulum schedule would have eight sailings, with room for 960 vehicles.

The close of the meeting featured a brief talk about Fauntleroy terminal renovation. The process will begin next year and include public input, with construction expected to begin in 2025.

WSF allowed public comment at the end, but some of the speakers and many members of the public had already left.

The spillover crowd watches procedings from outside the church hall in West Seattle. (John de Groen Photo)

The spillover crowd watches procedings from outside the church hall in West Seattle. (John de Groen Photo)

Vashon Island Fire & Rescue Chief Charlie Krimmert was the first to speak, stressing, as he has before, that leaving the island is not hard for the fire district, but getting crews back is a problem, especially when there are long gaps between boats. Following the meeting, he sent a letter to the ferry system and legislators, elaborating on his concerns. Among his remarks is that one of the longest gaps in service from Fauntleroy falls between 3:30 and 4:35 p.m. That gap, he wrote, almost perfectly aligns with the district’s busiest time of day, which was information he had provided to WSF.

“I find it disturbing that I can almost plan on the likelihood of having a crew and vehicle waiting 65 minutes, with another 20 minutes crossing time to get back in service. In our industry an hour and twenty-five minutes is not a life time but it can cost a life,” he wrote.

Wallace also addressed the crowd, speaking about the merits of the pendulum schedule. At the meeting, he said that he and Stockett would like to sit down with the ferry officials — an offer they were making for the 13th time — and share information. He noted that both Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon and Sen.-elect Joe Nguyen, both of whom attended the ferry meeting, had said they would sit in.

Over the weekend, Wallace and Stockett also sent a lengthy letter to WSF. In part, they took issue with the analysis Deardorf had presented regarding capacity issues with the pendulum model and set forth slightly different parameters.

“If WSF estimated theoretical capacity between 2:49 p.m. and 7:24 p.m., the capacity of the WSF proposed schedule and the capacity of the pendulum would be exactly the same, 1,080 spaces versus 1,080 spaces,” the letter states. “If WSF estimated theoretical capacity between 3:15 p.m. and 7 p.m., capacity would be exactly the same, 840 spaces compared to 840.”

They go on to recommend that WSF compute capacity and other metrics based on true rush hour timings and recommend that rush hours be considered as 5 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 7 p.m.

Other speakers at the meeting included Rich Osborne, who said dwell times were the “lynch pin” to improved efficiencies at Fauntleroy. He also questioned the reduction of service from the island, noting it would hurt staffing at Vashon Community Care, which relies on off-island personnel.

“I believe you are doing your best, but we are not there yet,” he said. “You have got to do better.”

Jar Lyons was among the last speakers and made several points, including that motorcycles at Southworth should count against Southworth’s vehicle allotment and that WSF should improve its fare collection technologies and would benefit by not charging for passengers at Fauntleroy.

“If you stopped collecting for passengers, you would solve all your problems, the cars would flow directly through the lanes with Good To Go! or something equivalent, and there would be no issues with filling the boats,” he said.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the UW Evans School released its report on ferry service from Fauntleroy. Among its suggestions are upgrades to technology, training and communication — and funding them appropriately. More information on the study will be forthcoming.

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