Last week, several ferry officials, including director Amy Scarton, hosted a public meeting on Vashon, where they shared information about the long-range plan, including the funding of new vessels; the new ferry schedule for the Triangle Route and initial planning for the Fauntleroy dock renovation slated to take place in 2025.
The officials, eight in all, also gave the floor over to questions and comments from the more than 60 people gathered at the high school for the May 30 meeting. Several spoke up, expressing frustration with the 4:10 p.m. sailing from Fauntleroy that goes to Southworth first, the difficulty in getting off the island in the evening and WSF’s lack of responsiveness regarding requests for data, among other topics. Representatives from Vashon’s Ferry Advisory Committee also made requests for specific changes, while noting that overall, the schedule is working better at Fauntleroy.
Scarton addressed the crowd first.
“First and foremost we are here to have a conversation with you. We are here to listen and to answer your questions,” she said.
Main points of the long-range plan, completed last year, could be centered around three themes, she said: invest, innovate and electrify. In good news, already known by some, Scarton said the Legislature had authorized a new boat-building program of hybrid-electric vessels. One boat has been funded, but the program could include up to five boats.
Some goals for the Triangle Route specifically, she said, include electrifying all three terminals, replacing the Fauntleroy terminal, adding a second slip at Southworth and adding summer and winter hours, which would require additional funding.
“We believe it is something that is absolutely needed on this route,” she added about the increased hours.
Regarding schedule changes, spokesperson Hadley Rodero revisited the goals of the schedule change: fix Fauntleroy in the afternoons, make sure boats leave on time and full, and provide more capacity to Southworth in the morning to eradicate a large service gap.
Greg Faust, director of Marine Operations, addressed the schedule change process and noted that WSF had placed priority initially on filling the boats and is now working on efficiency and leaving on time. Most boats between 3 and 6:15 p.m. are leaving full, he said.
Planner Justin Resnick, who created the schedule, also addressed schedule issues, including some adjustments for the summer. The 6:40 a.m. boat from Vashon will move to 6:35 a.m. for example, and the 7:35 a.m. boat will leave at 7:40. Similarly, in the afternoon, the 4:15 p.m. boat from Southworth will take vehicles to Vashon only, along with foot traffic to both Vashon and Fauntleroy.
He also addressed the long evening gap off Vashon, and said the 6:45 and 8:20 p.m. boats are typically one- half to one-third full.
“It is something we are keeping an eye on,” he said. “If we see either the 6:45 or 8:20 departures from Vashon getting full, that is obviously an issue we would want to deal with. If we see the Tahlequah 7 p.m. sailing filling up, that is another thing we will keep an eye on.”
WSF Chief of Staff Nicole McIntosh addressed, briefly, the Fauntleroy terminal project, stressing it is in its initial stages. A team is onboard, she said, and ready to begin the project. The first step will be extensive public outreach.
“We want to hear from all of you,” she said, noting the questions the outreach will address. “What is the problem, and what are we trying to solve? What is the purpose and need for the project?”
Later, she was asked about possible dock expansion and overhead loading for passengers. She said she could not answer prior to the public process, but promised that process will be an open one.
“We will consider everything,” she stated.
Public comment opened about half way through the two-hour meeting.
Sally Fox was the first to speak. She requested that performance measures include how long people wait at Fauntleroy. She also brought up the 4:10 p.m. sailing from Fauntleroy and the evening gap to get off the island.
“For someone who gets to the dock at 3 o’clock and it is overfilled, they are not going to get home until 5 o’clock,” she said. “So somebody with a commute or with kids is going to face a two-and-a-half to three-hour wait to get home. I know that there might be a lot of performance reasons to put in that 4:10 boat, but for the customer service experience and the lottery it has created … to get home earlier, it is crazy.”
Regarding the evening gap, Fox said those boats have never sailed full — and that there are other considerations, including how the schedule affects islanders and visitors.
Alice Larsen, who owns the origami gallery Paper Chase, also addressed the gap, saying it has affected her business. But she also noted that there are in fact, two service gaps in the evening: between 6:45 and 8:20 p.m. and then again between 8:20 p.m. and 9:55 p.m.
Larsen said she examined sales at her shop on the seven Fridays since the implementation of the schedule. On four of those days, she said, she had no sales — something that had not happened in the previous four years in the same time frame.
“That means that people are not coming to the island because they cannot get off the island on weekdays,” she said. “It affects me. … You are affecting my business by that schedule.”
Jar Lyons also addressed the issue of the evening service gap, saying that Faust told him the traffic off the island at that hour did not warrant more service. However, at Fauntleroy the boats that leave Southworth just 20 minutes apart and bypass Vashon back up at the dock and idle in the sound. They also routinely carry light loads: in one case he counted just seven cars and one motorcycle disembarking.
“They are going to stop somewhere,” he said about the vessels. “It’s either in the middle of Puget Sound, it could be here, and there are cars waiting to get off the island.”
At least two people inquired about modeling and data analysis, with one woman asking about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
Government Relations Director John Vezina responded, saying that Tim Eyman has another measure on the ballot this November, which would return car tabs to $30 and hurt transportation funding.
“As you talk about AI and other things, there is no money for us to invest in that. We are at bare bones just trying to keep our system running,” he said, noting that again this summer, because of funding limitations, WSF will have only one relief vessel.
John Meikejohn also asked about data. His first question: is the data available to work with — and if not, when will it be? Meikejohn said he first asked a year ago for the data and frequent requests to WSF have gone unanswered.
“I would like to ask on what date will all of the data from the prior system, as well as the current system, be available to anyone in the public?” he said.
Resnick responded saying that releasing the data is a priority for WSF, but it had not set a date to do so.
“But hearing that it is a priority from you all does help. That is something then we can move on more quickly,” he said.
Addressing basic human needs, Joe Ulatoski spoke about the island’s elderly population, saying it is “damned difficult” for people to wait in line when they need a restroom. He recommended port-a-potties on the hill on Vashon and in West Seattle.
The meeting closed with Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee member Justin Hirsch commending WSF for a schedule that is running more smoothly at Fauntleroy. He also made requests he previously said the committee would make: abolish the “dreaded” 4:10 p.m. ferry that goes to Southworth first, or at the very least “plug” the 3:30 sailing only with Vashon cars.
He also requested that the two-boat schedule favor Vashon and to bring back the bypass lane. Additionally, when the schedule starts to get behind, he said WSF should load passengers only once and at the end of the loading process and dock workers should have vehicles pull all the way up to the gate.
“These practices together can save significant time over the course of the afternoon, when summer traffic volumes add extra stress to the Triangle Route,” he said.
The Vashon Island High School Production Club recorded the meeting; it is available online at visdtv.org. The full text of the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee letter Hirsch read is on The Beachcomber’s website in the Opinion Section.