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WSF floats changes to Bainbridge ferry runs

The first major change in 15 years to the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry schedule will let commuters get to their Seattle offices earlier in the morning.

But more folks may sleep through their regular sailing – especially if they’ve been to a concert or a Mariners game the night before, because they may be getting home a lot later.

The schedule will also make riders wait a little longer between boats. But that’s not a policy choice. It’s a reflection of reality.

“The schedule has not changed in 15 years, but the traffic has,” said Dave Remagen, Washington State Ferries service planning manager.

“The boats are larger, and with more people and cars, it takes longer to onload and offload.”

Mike Thorne, the ferry system’s new chief executive officer, announced this week that schedules will be reviewed on all routes.

Seattle-Bainbridge is the first run to undergo the review because it’s the system’s busiest, carrying 26 percent of the traffic, and because it has the worst on-time performance.

The problem with late departures and arrivals is caused by the simple fact that the present schedule allows less time than necessary to get everyone on and off the boats, Remagan said.

New security procedures implemented post-Sept. 11 have worsened what was an already bad situation, he said.

Under those procedures, the boats are emptied completely and given a security check before anyone is allowed to board, whereas in the past, people were allowed on the boats immediately after offloading.

The changes in the commuter-hour schedules, Remagen said, reflect what is actually occurring.

“It doesn’t make sense to have a 7:10 sailing on the schedule that doesn’t actually leave at 7:10,” he said. “This will give people trying to make connections on the other side a better idea of when they need to be someplace.”

Two choices

The WSF has released two proposed schedules, one of which will be implemented on Sept. 22 when the fall schedule goes into effect.

Both proposals call for an early-early morning run on weekdays -- 4:40 a.m. under one plan and 4:50 under another.

“We tried that a couple of years ago, and the feedback was very positive,” said WSF spokesperson Pat Patterson. “It served people who need to get to work early, and people trying to make morning flights at the airport.”

The proposed schedules then proceed similar to the present schedule, except most sailings are 50 to 55 minutes apart, rather than the 45-minute spacing that appears at some points on the current schedule.

But you might not want to stay too late at the ball or the ball game, at least during the week, because the late-night schedules are trimmed significantly.

Where the present schedule now has six Seattle-to-Bainbridge sailings after 9 p.m. – 9:10, 9:50, 10:45, 11:15, 12:50 a.m. and 2:10 a.m. – the proposed alternatives offer only four choices – 9:45, 10:30, 12:00 and 1:30 a.m. under one plan, ten minutes later under another.

The total number of sailings drops from 24 to 23 under the proposed plans, Remagen said. That’s because the system budget limits operations to 18 hours for one of the Bainbridge boats and 22 hours for the other. When the onloading and offloading time for each sailing is increased, it is no longer possible to fit 24 total sailings into those time “windows,” he said.

The reduced frequency of late-night sailings reflects the fact that on weekdays, one-boat operations begin at 10:30.

Hard-core partiers need to look to the weekends. On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, when the earliest boat doesn’t leave Bainbridge until 6:15, the last boat won’t leave Seattle until it’s really late -- 2:55 a.m. under one alternative, 3:05 a.m. under the other.

While the main considerations are adding the early morning run and improving on-time performance, there will be some cost savings, Remagen said. Some fuel will be saved by dropping one trip a day. More fuel savings will come from running some of the mid-day boats a little slower.

The biggest savings, though, will come from reducing the overtime that must be paid when crew shifts don’t end on time.

“When the shifts don’t end as scheduled, we have to pay overtime to the crew,” Remagan said, “and that has been a significant amount.”

WSF originally proposed five alternative schedules and presented them to the Bainbridge Ferry Advisory Committee, which selected the options to circulate for public feedback.

The proposals are to be made available for review on the ferry system’s website and in the galleys on the Bainbridge boats. WSF employees will be on the Bainbridge ferries Tuesday and Wednesday of next week to answer questions and seek input.

The staff will make the final schedule decision after reviewing input from the riders, Patterson said.

After putting the new Bainbridge schedule into place, WSF will repeat the process for the other WSF runs. WSF has not determined the order in which the other routes will be evaluated.

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