New ferry chief has big plans for marine highways


Staff Writer

The new head of Washington State Ferries told more than 100 Islanders Thursday night that he hopes to restore their confidence in the state ferry system by working towards solving some of its many vexing problems.

After 24 days on the job, David Moseley added, he has identified four goals that he thinks are most pressing: Build new boats, improve fleet maintenance, provide the Legislature with the information it has requested and get out into the ferry-served communities to talk to people.

But improvements to the system will take time, he noted, and ferry service disruptions — like that which plagued the south-end route only last week — will continue.

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘When you’re going through hell, keep going,’” Moseley told the crowd at McMurray Middle School. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

Moseley, 60, whose meeting with Islanders was his eighth foray into the field since his appointment last month, comes to the helm of the agency with strong administrative credentials and the high hopes of those paying close attention to the troubled system.

Until recently, he worked as vice president of the Institute for Community Change, a Seattle nonprofit that provides strategic and policy support to government agencies or nonprofits attempting to undertake a significant change initiative.

Before that, he headed Seattle’s Department of Community Development and served as the city manager in Federal Way, Steilacoom and Ellensburg. Despite his lack of maritime or transportation experience, Moseley, Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond told reporters last month, was tapped to head the ferry system because he’s a strong manager and strategic thinker.

But he also is taking on an agency with a staggering set of problems, many of which came up during his often-lively exchange with Islanders last week.

Fares have increased dramatically in the last several years, ever since the Legislature ended the motor vehicle excise tax, which provided the ferry system with 20 percent of its revenue. The fleet is old and in need of repair, and several boats, as a result, are now out of commission. And in an effort to increase revenue, the system has done more than just raise fares: It’s developed an electronic ticketing system that gives Islanders less flexibility in how they use their frequent-user tickets.

Islander Wendy Wharton said the new Wave2Go system has cost her money, as she’s not always able to use the ferry 10 times in the 90 days allotted — a situation recently compounded by the fact that she was hospitalized for congestive heart failure, she told Moseley.

“I wound up paying $19.75 (per trip),” she said, sounding frustrated. “But I have to go off Island. My heart specialist doesn’t live on Vashon.”

Several echoed Wharton’s frustration, noting that the system is particularly hard on seniors, many of whom don’t travel off the Island as frequently as other users.

When Dan Ferguson, the ferry system’s operations manager, said nothing could be done about the fares until 2009, when the fare structure comes up for review again, Islander Edeen Parrish sounded dismayed.

“That’s almost two years from now. I might not live to see it. I’m 85 years old,” she told him.

Others talked about their frustration with the north-end route and the seeming imbalance between the number of Southworth cars allowed onto the so-called triangle route and the number of Vashon cars.

“Can something be done to make sure more than 10 to 12 cars from Vashon get on?” asked Islander Bill Carr.

“The triangle run is a difficult configuration,” Moseley answered. “It’s cumbersome. … I’m going to take a crack at (fixing) it. But I’ll probably fail, too.”

In another lively exchange, Walt Brooks stood up and shook his finger at Moseley, saying that the frequent disruptions in service have become “an intolerable situation” that “just goes on and on.”

“This is part of the road system. It is not a ferry system,” he said as people broke into a loud applause.

Ray Deardorf, the ferry system’s planning director, said his agency has been tasked by the Legislature to explore strategies to increase what he called the system’s “level of service” without adding more boats. Thus, he said, the system is looking into both a reservation system as well as a rate structure that offers lower fares during off-peak hours — an effort to get those who have a choice on travel time to choose runs that are not usually full.

But some Islanders took issue with both approaches. Ellen Kritzman noted that those people who can avoid the crowded commute hours already do. And Hilary Emmer said she was troubled by a reservation system that would enable those with more money to get to the head of the line.

“We cannot have a system that rewards people who have money, while everyone else has to go to the back of the line,” she said.

Indeed, the system is already so expensive, Ken Zaglin, a real estate agent, told Moseley that he knows a number of people who have chosen to move off the Island.

“I don’t envy you your job, but the issue does have a real effect,” Zaglin said.

For the most part, Moseley and other members of the ferry system staff listened to Islanders; Moseley frequently took notes. But at the beginning of the meeting, he said that some of the issues Islanders raised when Transportation Secretary Hammond visited Vashon two weeks ago are already being addressed.

Islanders, for instance, have asked for a camera at the north-end ferry terminal so that they can get a sense of how long the ferry line is; such cameras exist at many of the other terminals. Moseley told them that it looks like his staff has found a camera that can be installed at the north-end terminal and that it could happen within the next few months.

He also told Islanders that he’s working to ensure that those riders who use a wheelchair have the access they’re required by law to have — an issue that was raised at the recent meeting with Hammond.

Moseley added that as the new ferry chief he won’t simply read reports but will get out and “see the problems for myself.”

“One of the things I’ve consistently heard … is that we need to do a better job of being accessible and listening when problems come up,” he said.