iPhone app helps islanders navigate ferries

Ferry Friend was developed by an islander, Jordan Soltman.

You know the feeling.

You’re running to an important meeting. The ferries are backed up. You have no idea how long it’s going to be. The frustration is something every islander can understand.When it happens, it’s the not knowing that can drive you mad.

Next time, you may need to visit Ferry Friend.

Ferry Friend is an iPhone app that is growing in popularity with astounding speed. Islanders around the Northwest are turning to the app for the latest on schedules, back-ups and more.

The app was started by an islander, Jordan Soltman.

Soltman is a 30 year-old tech guru. A 2010 graduate of Vashon High School, he grew up on the island, and is the son of former School Superintendent Michael Soltman and islander Gayle Kellner.

By the time he was in his early twenties, Soltman was handling technology challenges for airlines and other big corporate clients. But in 2015, Soltman launched Ferry Friend as a “labor of love.”

Soltman said he long felt the state ferry system information was difficult to navigate, and he saw the need for a place for islanders to get all of their ferry schedule information needs met. He built Ferry Friend on the weekends, originally just sharing ferry schedules.

Now there is more on the app, including reservations on some routes, drive-up up spots on the Tacoma route and a way to upload tickets for easy sharing with ferry workers.

For Soltman, the challenges of island life were a known commodity. He saw a need and filled it.

“I grew up here. So many people rely on the ferry every single day,” he said. “I can see the immediate local impact of this app. It’s tangible to me.”

Soltman now works closely with fellow islander Tyler Sayvetz, his long-time friend and co-conspirator. The two also worked at Vashon Tech Support years ago.

But now, the pair are upping their game with Ferry Friend, and are going even deeper into supporting island life.

Soltman said he doesn’t want to create a paywall or charge for the app, though he has considered a monthly subscription fee for Ferry Friend.

There are now 10,000 active subscribers for the app, coming from across the state. Soltman added that a new version is about to be released for Android. That’s the work of Brendan Smith, who has spent his time as an intern this summer, altering the app for Android users.

Soltman said the team is now working on improvements to the app. People can support the app by downloading it, sharing it and sending ideas to the team to improve the app.

Soltman said he and Sayvetz have no budget for the app, but could do advertising and market it more if they had financial support, which is why they have set up a Patreon fund, at patreon.com/ferryfriend, for islanders who feel the need to support Ferry Friend. That’s something islanders across the Puget Sound area can do – not just Vashon.

As for the app’s creator, after stints at several companies, Soltman moved back to the island three years ago for “about six months,” he jokes now. He said he never expected to be back on the island, but he fell in love with it again. Meanwhile, Soltman and his wife Madeline both bartend at Ruby Brink, something Soltman truly enjoys.

And all the while, Ferry Friend has continued to grow, collecting five-star ratings and thousands of positive reviews, all of which make Soltman feel proud.

For the affable Soltman, working on Ferry Friend is a perfect way to give a little something to the island he calls home –and he has no plans to change that.

“I like being here,” he said.