Tag Archives: Public transportation

Video: How to Tap the ORCA card

Here’s a recent video showing how to “tap” the ORCA card. Besides being an effective way to educate the public on how to use the card, it’s a great pro-transit piece as well.

The Reservation Partnership Group has been discussing ways to improve communication between WSF and riders. This video might be an example of one way of passing on information in a user-friendly way.


Ferries for the future

I would like to share with our readers another excellent article by Charles Maron of the Strong Towns Blog. This article discusses the economics of transportation funding, why our budgets favor new construction over maintenance, why federal contributions aren’t a magic bullet, and why we can’t simply borrow our way towards prosperity.

“[O]ur transportation spending is set up to favor new construction. It is just so much more fun. Maintenance is simply a pain, a local concern. That highway fix it project means nothing but congestion and delays and, when it’s all done, all you have is a little smoother ride. By contrast, new construction is so much better. Not only do the politicians get a ribbon cutting scene, but we can all (once again) “solve” congestion… New growth just feels so much better.

“If the problem here is not obvious to you at this point, let me elaborate. We spend money on transportation. We feel wealthy and experience this enormous “return” (more on that in a second). Only a fraction of that wealth is actually cycled back into the system, however, and an even smaller fraction of that will actually be captured to pay for the project. The amount recouped is ultimately nowhere near the amount invested.”

Read the full article here: Paved with good intentions.

It is easy for ferry-dependent communities to make the case that the ferries are our highways and, as such, are essential for the economic health of the islands. The ferries are also very much a form of public transportation, with high operating costs. We can no longer borrow to pay for our transportation infrastructure, and raising taxes is politically difficult. But beyond those immediate issues are the broader questions of how to maintain our infrastructure in the long run—how the ferry system can be self-sustaining.

My previous post about the Massachusetts Steamship Authority shows one option: that users of the system pay the full cost. Another option is to drastically reduce service, as has happened to Pierce County Transit, King County Metro, Community Transit, and virtually every other state & county agency.

A third option is for island communities to create more value for Washington State. The fact is that many citizens see ferry-served communities as simply places for rich people to have nice country homes. As long as there is a public perception that the ferry system merely supports an exurban-rural lifestyle for the select few, it will be extremely difficult to continue to garner legislative financial support from non-ferry-served districts.

We in the San Juans are actually in a better position than some other ferry communities. Although our farebox recovery rate is the lowest in the system, the San Juans provide a significant economic return to the state by way of taxes collected, primarily through tourism. According to Senator Ranker, in 2010 the San Juans returned $15 million to the state. So the next time you feel “invaded” by the tourists, perhaps it would be a good idea to remember that tourism provides significant support to our ferry system, both directly and indirectly.

The San Juan Islands also have the advantage of providing a high-quality destination within close proximity to a major metropolitan area. We can continue developing car-free tourism opportunities for an emerging group of car-free (or car-sharing) urbanites. We can continue to leverage our recreational, aesthetic, and cultural assets towards supporting not only our own communities, but also providing a return on the investment in the ferry system that all citizens of Washington State have made.

Our old, creaky Washington State Ferry fleet

This coming Saturday we have an opportunity to meet with state legislators and talk with them about our concerns related to the current state of the ferry system. In preparation for this meeting, we’ve been sharing recent news articles addressing various ferry topics. The article linked here today appeared online yesterday. Our old, creaky Washington State Ferry fleet by Joel Connelly (Seattle PI) lays out a good argument for why transportation issues matter to all Washingtonians.

Thanks to John Whetten for sharing the link.

Fragile state of Washington’s Ferries

I had planned to post something this week about the recent mechanical breakdowns on the Yakima and Hiyu and the ensuing impact on San Juan Islanders. Then a member of the Ferry Community Partnership sent out a link to the October 26 post on Crosscut.com, which addresses this specific topic. The article is very comprehensive and it makes more sense to provide a link to that than to reinvent the wheel. Please take a few minutes to read The Fragile State of Washington’s Ferries.

David Moseley’s reply to the San Juan County Council (referenced in the article) can be accessed here.

When we meet with legislators in Anacortes on November 5, this is a topic we need to bring up. Clearly we were lucky this time.

Guest Post: Ferries Conference (9-6-11)

The 2nd annual Ferries Conference was held earlier this week in Seattle. Lopez resident Tom Cowan attended and we asked him to share a summary of what took place. Here is his reply:

I attended a Ferries Conference last Tuesday presented by Philips Publishing Group. 135 people attended and the targeted audiences were public transit agencies and vendors to the passenger vessel industry. A main theme was about developing new ferry systems as an alternate to land-based commuter systems.

Some of the highlights included Rep. Rick Larsen’s opening keynote address. In the proposal for federal funding, Wash. State will get $1.3 billion less than current and he urged everyone to consider this a “call to action.” There is also a proposal to consolidate the 108 federal transportation programs and he is concerned that the Federal Ferry Boat Program may be lost. Rep. Larsen is sponsoring HR 1879, the Ferries Investment Act, which is intended to fund existing ferries and expand ferry service across the U.S.

We heard from the Passenger Vessel Assoc. about more movements to use private sector funding of ferries. For example, IKEA and Goldman Sachs purchased ferries in NYC to get customers and employees around and there is considerable advertising on boats.

We had a presentation about demand forecasting and modeling price elasticity. Michael Hodgins spoke about pricing and revenue development. He spoke about volume and frequency pricing and the need to partner with other service providers, like transit and tour operators. Also, developing premium products and services, like reservations, priority access, packages that include lodging and restaurants, concessions and special charter cruises.

Captain George Capaci described WSF challenges and successes. WSF started fuel hedging last month.

Tom Cowan

We appreciate Tom taking the time to prepare this post. If you have a topic you’d like to present in a guest post, please contact Susan at SJBrooks@aol.com.

A Canadian’s thoughts about privitization

Partial privatization has been suggested as one solution to funding our ferry system. Aside from the fact that a step in that direction would further drive a wedge between WSF and the rest of the state’s transportation system, there are a host of significant challenges with this approach. We can see this in what’s currently happening with the ferries in British Columbia.

Occasionally, we use this space to link to an article about the partial privatization of BC Ferries. Here is an article that appeared in the Times Colonist on August 17. I don’t know that our Build in WA law is so great when there is just one shipyard and therefore no competitive bidding, but the article does offer food for thought.