Bainbridge ferry riders want better-coordinated transit

Coordinating better transit connections at the Seattle ferry dock is the most important thing Washington State Ferries can do to help riders better utilize the Bainbridge-Seattle route.

That was the message sent to Washington State Ferries planners by island ferry users who attended a Monday night meeting to comment on pricing and operations strategies being considered to “manage demand” on ferries.

Bainbridge was the fourth ferry community asked to weigh in on WSF’s legislatively mandated study of how to maximize use of current ferries and facilities, and to minimize the need for costly infrastructure expansion.

“The system we have today is not financially sustainable,” WSF chief David Moseley told Bainbridge residents at the Commons Monday evening. “That is why this study is so critically important.”

The roughly 30 ferry users who attended overwhelmingly ranked improved transit connections at terminals as the most useful of nine strategies being considered, with several saying public transportation options from the Seattle terminal are woefully few. Fare manipulation and improvements for non-motorized passengers were chosen second and third, respectively.

For the bulk of the meeting, attendees were divided into five tables, each attended by WSF staff. Mediators focused discussion on two strategies for managing demand: fare pricing and reservations.

When it came to using pricing as a deterrent to riding peak hours, or discounts as an incentive for riding off-peak runs, Bainbridge residents said most commuters don’t have the option of changing their routine.

“No one wants to be on those boats,” Bainbridge FAC member Torin Larsen said. “If they could flex their schedule, they would, and I’m one of them.”

As another commuter put it, “You might say, ‘that sounds great, to me,’ but your boss may say ‘forget it.’”

But many supported using pricing to change the way people travel. There was interest in a more finely tuned pricing scale that would charge less for smaller vehicles, and in encouraging walk-ons and bicycles with dramatic discounts.

The idea of structuring fares to shift traffic from one route to another was popular among Bainbridge residents, but only if it could funnel Kitsap traffic away from Bainbridge to Kingston or Bremerton.

Planners laid out the idea of a reservation system as a way of reducing queues for ferries, while providing customers a reliable service.

Residents saw a reservation system for vehicle fares as a promising tool, especially for giving peace of mind when planning time-sensitive trips.

“As a non-commuter I could see it working if I could make a doctor’s appointment in Seattle and know I can make that appointment,” attendee Dianne Thompson said.

While the reservation system being tested in Port Townsend has been well received, many wondered how the system would work for Bainbridge, a much larger market with a core of commuters who need to secure a spot on the same sailings every weekday.

Fred Scheffler said he was uncomfortable with citizens having to reserve a spot on a public highway system, and envisioned a day when scalpers would be hawking ferry reservations at inflated prices.

“It sounds like a great business opportunity to me,” he said.

Beyond the two main discussion points, islanders were given time to comment on myriad ferry issues.

Bicyclists suggested a designated toll booth for two-wheeled passengers, as well as bicycle racks on the ferries themselves. Moseley said ferry captain Ty Anderson will be working with cycling advocates in coming weeks to make WSF more cycling-friendly.

Ferry users also asked if fare kiosks and traffic lanes at Colman Dock in Seattle could be improved.

WSF will gather input on pricing and operations strategies through the summer. In September planners will return to ferry communities to present an initial set of plans. Chosen strategies will be incorporated in a draft long-range plan in November, to be presented for approval in the 2009 legislative session along with a financial plan being developed by the state Transportation Commission.

On Monday, WSF mediators stuck to a strict agenda, in contrast to the boisterous, loosely structured March meeting that introduced Moseley to the Bainbridge community.

Moseley said the structured meetings have given him a clearer look at issues across all ferry-served communities.

“We need all the input we can get,” Moseley said.

\ Have your say

Give your thoughts to WSF chief David Moseley by calling (206) 515-3401. Summaries of all the ferry community meetings will be available on the WSF website by mid-July.

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