Reduction in ferry service leaves commuters unhappy

With only three days’ notice, Washington State Ferries on Monday took one ferry out of circulation from the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route, leaving Vashon ferry riders unhappy about both the suddenness of the announcement and the potential impact on their commute.

The move from a three-boat to two-boat schedule will be in effect until mid-February, according to Washington State Ferries (WSF) communications director Marta Coursey. It was announced Friday afternoon at 3 p.m.

“So nice that WSF provides so much advance notice of a significant change in service,” said Dean Katz, former chair of Vashon’s ferry advisory committee, in an e-mail. “Kind of like saying ‘oh, by the way, the 520 bridge will be shut down starting next Monday for a month.’”

“The FACs (ferry advisory committees) have been working with WSF to establish a viable two-way communication channel which works for the benefit of both WSF and the citizens it serves,” Alan Mendel, chair of Vashon’s ferry advisory committee, wrote in an e-mail to Steve Reinmuth, the state Department of Transportation’s acting assistant secretary for the Ferries Division.

“What has happened in this case indicates that these efforts have failed miserably.”

Reinmuth, in an e-mailed response to Mendel, said that the decision to change the schedule was not clear until noon last Friday.

Coursey corroborated that, saying, “Because we currently have no backup boats in WSF, we had to shift our entire system.”

The state ferry system embarked on its regular off-peak season maintenance drydocking, taking the Chelan off the Vashon/Fauntleroy/Southworth route, and because several of the steel-electric boats have been pulled off the system for unexpected repairs, there were no spare vessels to take the Chelan’s place.

Coursey also said that ferry riders in general will be feeling the effects of the problem for about six months, although Susan Harris of WSF operations said that the effect on Vashon would be limited to the announced one month.

The short notice was exacerbated on Friday when the link on the ferry system’s Web site to the new two-boat schedule proved to be empty. By Monday it was functioning so riders could make decisions about how to get off-Island.

Of the 11 Vashon-to-Fauntleroy runs on Monday morning up until the 10:30 a.m. departure, seven had overloads ranging from 10 to 65 vehicles. Harris said that level of overload was average for a typical two-boat system on that run.

It does mean that travelers will have to calculate that possibility into their plans and to look at the schedule, which leaves out some runs from the regular schedule. Go to

The overloads on Monday morning happened despite the replacement of the 87-car Tillikum with the 124-car Kitsap boat. The Kitsap came from Bremerton, which got the smaller Tillikum in exchange.

WSF has also added two sailings to the normal Seattle/Vashon passenger-only service.

The extra sailings will be a 5:50 a.m. sailing from Vashon, a 6:25 a.m. sailing from Seattle, a 3:35 p.m. sailing from Seattle and a 4:10 p.m. sailing from Vashon.

Coursey said that WSF did not have numbers demonstrating what kind of difference that would make, but she said that the assumption was that some travelers would find it possible to change their travel patterns for the month.

And for those who forget that some people go to Tacoma from Vashon, there will also be a larger vessel, the 87-car Evergreen State, on the Point Defiance/Tahlequah route.

Coursey urged travelers heading to south King County or Pierce County to use that route instead of Fauntleroy.

As for the larger picture, Reinmuth indicated in his response to Mendel that safety is the primary issue for WSF: “We appreciate hearing from ferry customers, even when they take issue with our decisions to make necessary temporary-service reductions to be sure that our vessels are maintained regularly. We have also heard from some customers who support the temporary service impacts as a price for the uncompromising safety focus that we share with the U.S. Coast Guard. Customers just can’t have it both ways.”

But at the top of Coursey’s Friday press release is the statement that it’s the steel electric boats being off-line unexpectedly that is the initial stone thrown into the water, with the effects rippling out to the entire system.

There is talk in the Legislature and from Gov. Chris Gregoire of building new boats, but that’s not an immediate fix since it takes time to build even small ones.

Learn more

Still reeling from the announcement of the two-boat schedule at the north end? Rep. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island), newly appointed to the state Legislature, will discuss a range of topics related to the state’s complex ferry situation next week in a conversation with Islander Jeff Hoyt on Voice of Vashon Standing By. Tune to 1650 AM starting Monday morning, Jan. 21. The recorded interview will repeat all week long, Hoyt says.