Back to basics for state ferries

Two weeks into his job as chief of Washington State Ferries, David Moseley told Bainbridge residents he wanted to take the agency back to its basics.

“I think the basic service we provide is boats that run, run well, run on time and are good for the customers to have,” Moseley said as he introduced himself to a Bainbridge Ferry Advisory Committee Monday night.

The aim of the meeting was a review of the long-range financial planning effort underway this year to sustain those basic services.

Though the results of two key economic studies and several surveys won’t be released until later this year, WSF planners said they had some new data to work with.

The agency has already determined that ridership will likely be much lower than previously projected.

Peak hour fares are now expected to grow by 37.5 percent system-wide by 2030, rather than 70 percent, Bainbridge and Kingston routes will see closer to a 44 percent rider increase.

With funding solutions still in limbo, WSF planners used the meeting to float two proposed policy shifts by Bainbridge customers.

One would rework the agency’s level of service standards, which gauge how well operations are meeting demand.

WSF measures LOS as the number of boats a passenger has to wait for on average before being accommodated.

For the Bainbridge route, passengers are expected to be accommodated with a one-boat wait during peak hours. The LOS for vehicles is a two boat wait.

In the past when demand on a route exceeded a LOS standard, the response from WSF was to look for ways to increase capacity with bigger boats or more runs.

WSF Planning Director Ray Deardorf said the agency is considering a shift in policy that would make the agency’s first response would be to apply tools for mitigating demand.

That could mean higher fares during the busy hours, or discounts for riding off-peak runs.

If demand was still too high, then WSF’s secondary response would be adding capacity.

It’s a proposal that doesn’t sit well with commuters who say their jobs determine what ferries they catch, and higher fares won’t change their behavior.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who wanted to be on the 4:40 ferry,” one resident said.

The agency is also mulling a change in its approach to terminal upgrades.

Because of money woes, sweeping renovations, like the one planned for the Bainbridge terminal will likely be scaled back, said Director of Terminal Engineering John White.

Future projects would focus on preservation of existing facilities with targeted projects to address safety issues and increase efficiency.

Moseley said the ferries will look for private funds from the private sector to help offset capital costs.

He cited the recent advertising campaign on ferries and in terminals.

That brought in $160,000 in three months, as a successful partnership with business.

“Any private money we can bring into the ferry system, I am going to look for,” Moseley said.

White said the agency is studying what revenue generating opportunities there are at terminals throughout the system and that Bainbridge was “in the mix.”

Planners said the work now under way to create a new bike lane and signal light above the Bainbridge terminal is an example of a targeted approach to capital improvements.

But some at the meeting questioned whether the new light will be an asset, or will simply add to congestion.

“I think it’s anything but unanimous that having a traffic light will assist pedestrians or add to safety,” Don Willott said.

White said the light should serve its purpose if pedestrians heed the signals.

“It’s more predictable, and more reliable, with the understanding that some people will not follow the rules,” he said.

Many at the meeting said that synchronizing all the lights on State Route 305, to relieve congestion from the terminal through Poulsbo, should be a priority.

“I’ve heard the same thing over and over again,” City Council Chair Bill Knobloch said. “When you unload 300 cars onto Bainbridge, our community is impacted, it changes our quality of life.”

A number of residents said they were appreciative that WSF was including community comment early in the planning process and that Moseley hadn’t waited long to make an appearance on the island.

Council Member Chris Snow said that in previous years it felt like WSF had forged plans on its own, and then presented them to communities as a solution.

“Developing the plan together will make that presentation go a lot smoother,” Snow said. “There’s a lot of possibility here we need to realize.”

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