On September 30, the San Juan County Council sent a letter to Governor Inslee regarding proposed reductions in ferry service that will impact Anacortes, the San Juan Islands, and Sydney, BC. An article in the journal of the San Juan Islands includes background information about the proposed cuts as well as the full text of the letter. Click here to access the article.
Service on ferry routes in the San Juan Islands and Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth may be reduced in 2015 in order to save money. If you are not aware of this proposal, you can learn more here.
If these cuts are implemented there will be negative consequences for residents, businesses, and visitors in the areas served by these particular routes.
The Ferry Community Partnership (FCP) is hosting a meeting in Anacortes on Saturday, October 11 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the meeting room of the Anacortes Public Library. The proposed service cuts and what to do about them will be on the agenda. This meeting is open to the public.
The proposed extension of the winter ferry schedule means service cuts for the Anacortes/San Juan Islands routes. In addition to the inconvenience for travelers and residents, there will be an economic impact for Anacortes, the San Juan Islands and other communities. The Ferry Community Partnership—a grassroots advocacy group comprised of ferry riders, ferry community businesses, and local government officials that works with state legislators and agencies to support issues important to all ferry–served communities—plans to meet in Anacortes this October to discuss this and other WSF issues that impact our area .
You are cordially invited to attend this meeting.Date: October 11, 2014 Time: 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Location: Public Library Meeting Room in Anacortes, WA (1220 10th Street, Anacortes, WA 98221).
Other topics that will be covered include a legislative update, and identifying FCP’s goals for 2015. We invite you to hear these updates, ask questions, and give us your recommendations on next steps for FCP to take to be most effective in supporting all ferry-served communities.
WSF has proposed extending the Winter schedule from 12 weeks to twenty, effectively cutting significant service during the Holiday season. For more on the proposed service cuts, see this article on the San Juan Islander: 5-month long winter ferry schedule?
Senator Ranker has joined 19 other legislators in writing to Governor Gregoire opposing cuts to service and asking that the state step up to secure predictable funding for the ferry system.
Senator Ranker’s letter:
“Dear Governor Gregoire,
“We are writing this letter to urge you to reject the elimination of ferry runs proposed by the Washington State Department of Transportation in its 2013-2015 budget decision package.
“The service reductions put forth represent a significant loss to those communities that depend upon our marine highway system as a linkage with the rest of the state – economically and culturally.
“After a decade of significant but strategic cuts, the existing system is already running at a bare-bones level of service, with no plans afoot for future expansion. The remaining runs have been deemed year after year to be of significant economic value to our region and our national security and, for that reason, have been preserved by the legislature. On a predictable, almost annual basis, we find ourselves facing DOT budget proposals that undermine the economic stability of our counties by inferring that today’s ferry system is not worthy of preservation and that its fate is uncertain. On a predictable, almost annual basis, the legislators that form the ferry caucus spend precious session time to fight back these proposals.
“Today we say to you: Enough is enough.
“Since 2000, we have cut and cut and cut the ferry system. The state is officially out of the passenger-only-ferry business and every route has sustained reductions in service. Over the past four years we have worked with Washington State Ferries to generate savings of over $40 million – the result of reducing staff, new labor agreements, shrinking paid consultants and studies, and improved efficiency in maintenance and operations.
“At the same time, for the past decade ferry riders have done their part to sustain the ferry system by paying higher general fares to help cover both operating and capital costs, resulting in a recovery rate far higher than any transit system in the state and one which has made the system unaffordable for many riders. In exchange for these fare increases, riders are presented with reduced service and constant threats of further loss.
“As we do every year, we stand ready to work with you to turn around this situation.
“During the 2012 session, the Legislature adopted two revenue bills to address some of the transportation revenue shortfalls – much of this revenue was intended to help sustain the ferry system without limiting the service upon which our communities rely.
“Just last April, Senator Haugen and Representative Clibborn sent a letter stating the Legislature’s intent to appropriate funds sufficient to maintain ferry routes and schedules at existing levels, in an effort to avoid costly public hearings and the economic undermining caused by press releases proposing cuts. This letter is attached.
“Again, we urge you to reject the proposed service cuts and to put forth a transportation budget that reflects the shared priorities of our state – a budget that considers our remaining state ferry system to be public transportation infrastructure worthy of being maintained.
“We thank you for hearing our concerns and look forward to your support.”
Once again, ferry-dependent communities are faced with what seems to be an annual event: threats of service cuts. It’s unlikely that we’ll find a quick and easy solution to the continued funding crisis, given that since 2000 the state legislature has been unable to come up with a stable source of funding for Washington State Ferries. Even once a stable source of funding is secured, it’s very hard to imagine that ferry service will remain at current levels of service, considering the deep funding cuts that are being required to keep our state solvent.
Permanent loss of service will impact all ferry communities by reducing the ability of commuters to keep their off-island jobs, reduce income to tourist-oriented businesses, and probably make owning a second home in the Islands a much less appealing prospect. In short, less service means that island communities could decline economically and socially.
Our current fleet of ferries is aging and in need of replacement; however, the new car ferries coming on line have higher operating costs than the older boats, so both capital and operating costs will continue to rise even as ridership declines.
So what can we do? A recent discussion over at the Ferry Community Partnership’s Yahoo group offers some ideas and insight. (If you’re not currently a member of the group, we highly recommend you join, as it’s an active group with highly knowledgeable and effective members.) In short, the discussion revolves around the idea of using passenger-only ferries to provide a level of service that is now being supplied by auto ferries. Auto ferries are fabulously expensive to build compared to passenger ferries and have much higher operating costs.
It’s not all roses, however; WSF has a dismal track record on making passenger-only ferries work in cost-effective manner, and the economics of private passenger ferries so far hasn’t worked out. But as fuel costs continue to rise and transit connections are becoming more viable (albeit at a glacial pace), it’s possible to imagine scenarios where passenger ferries can indeed replace service now being provided by car ferries, and doing so more efficiently.
As an example, take a look at a recent article about a possible passenger ferry for Port Townsend: Port Townsend Foot Ferry a Step Closer. Check out the comments too: there are excellent ideas about connecting bike paths, Zipcar service, and more.
Would a passenger ferry work for you? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
Washington State Ferries has been asked by the governor’s office to come up with $5 million in budget cuts for the upcoming biennial budget. The response from WSF is focusing on service cuts to make up the budget shortfall. The proposal so far is to:
- Reduce two-boat ferry service to one-boat ferry service on the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville route for four weeks in the spring and four weeks in the fall.
- Eliminate late-night service on the Mukilteo-to-Cinton route.
- Reduced winter schedule service on the Vashon north-end triangle route extended from 12 to 20 weeks. And on weekends year-round, one of the three boats would be taken out of service.
- Eliminate the last run of the night on the Bremerton-Seattle run.
- Eliminate the 12:20 p.m. departure from Bremerton and the 1:30 p.m. from Seattle Monday through Friday, and the 6 a.m. sailing from Seattle on Sundays.
- Elimination of the last run of the night on the Tahlequah-Point Defiance route, as well as one mid-day trip.
David Moseley, WSF’s head, is justifying the service cuts on the fact that these runs are lightly used and are thus expendable.
“The Washington State Ferries are not financially sustainable with our current level of service and have not been for some time,” Moseley said.
WSF rolls out threats to cut service on a regular basis, and these threats are often only the opening salvo in negotiating budget cuts. Cutting service is low-hanging fruit for WSF, as service cuts don’t require taking a hard look at where savings and efficiencies might be found in the system. From an editorial in the Kitsap Sun:
“Our legislative delegation will once again fight the first battle to stem the draconian suggestion that would eliminate late-night service to Bremerton, and hopefully they can make headway on the second. Specifically, it’s time to talk about making passenger-only ferry service an option for WSF if smaller boats can be run more cheaply on certain lower-use runs, opening up bids on shipbuilding to out-of-state competition, and increasing flexibility in staffing and scheduling with the ferry employee unions.”
More information can be found in the following articles:
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber: State again puts forward threat of ferry route cuts
Whidbey News-Times: Ferry service on Whidbey may be cut back
South Everett Beacon: Proposed cuts to ferry service may impact commuters
A last-minute compromise in the Senate, including action by Senator Ranker, resulted in an amendment to the 2011-2013 Transportation Budget that would maintain current levels of ferry service. Still under debate in the House are two bills that address new ferry construction and maintaining sufficient operating funds.