Washington State Ferries received a nice boost in the most recent transportation budget passed by the legislature.
Ferries emerged with 13% capital and 20% operating budget boosts. Electrification drove the capital boost. Operations increases came from $70 million more for diesel, and $33 million more for labor.
Since 2009, WSF fare hikes had been capped to 2 ½%. This year they will be upped 4%. Compounding, vehicle fares will go from $21 to $32 in a decade.
There’s $25 million to fortify crewing. Previously crewpersons paid out of pocket for fees and certifications. They also completed onboard training on their own time. Now that’s paid for.
There’s $8 million to advance Able Body Seamen to licensed Mates (second to the captain). The cost per Mate equals a Harvard law degree…or a Lamborghini. The reason is that Mate trainees get a salary while law students don’t. With extra crew as trainees, boats should be able to sail when a regular crew member doesn’t show. To handle COVID-like emergencies, WSF leadership needs to drop its hostility to experienced mariners and its barriers to reassigning crew when their boat can’t sail.
There’s $268,000 for traffic control through spring 2025. After that, a federally funded electronic system replaces the traffic control officers. $4.9 million for right-of-way and engineering to re-route Kingston’s ferry traffic around downtown. Then $13.6 million in 2025 for construction. The terminal gets $17 million for preservation, including replacing the old restroom.
WSF contends it doesn’t “have the staff or resources to conduct a Kingston-Edmonds reservations pre-design study…to understand program needs…with input from stakeholders.”
That’s claptrap. The study was done in 2010 by 15 community members, 12 Ferries’ staff, four consultants and two Kitsap County staff. There were eight workshops and nine public meetings. The 117-page report left no stone unturned.
It got the Office of Financial Management’s go-ahead. There’s $8 million for upgrading reservations and WSF’s support staff has grown by 60% since 2016. After dragging their feet for over a decade it’s time for Ferries to “Just do it.”
Old and new boats
$45 million was added to Volkswagen’s Dieselgate settlement so that Jumbo Mk II overhauls could be included with their hybrid Fahrvergnügen. Given the tricky shore charging boom arrangement is successful, Bainbridge, Mukilteo, Seattle and Clinton will be electrified. Here at Kingston, Mk IIs will be run like a Prius instead of a Tesla. Tillikum, last of the Evergreen state boats, gets $20 million. With good fortune she’ll make it into her 70’s.
As for new boats, there’s contracting money for them. Legislation now allows nationwide bidding and for WSF to consider the “best value” instead of only the lowest bid. That is long overdue. In 2010 Ferries paid $65 million for 64-car ferries that had been built in Mississippi for $33 million.
In 2018 both BC Ferries and WSF started to procure six hybrid ferries. By 2021 BC Ferries had all six whereas, under the old rules, WSF wouldn’t get theirs before 2031.
As for other budget items: $175,000 to study rider demographics; $450,000 to increase Anacortes walk-ons; another $450,000 to study ferry procurement; and $125,000 to study electronic wait-time measurement. (Previously, riders were just asked.) Also, $1.6 million for possible Sidney-Friday Harbor passenger service; and $1.5 million and two full-time staff to remediate “cultural issues.”
If you have any questions, there’s a Zoom WSF meeting June 1 from 6-7:30 p.m. Comments on fares will be taken in July. Check the WSF website at wsdot.wa.gov/travel/washington-state-ferries
Walt Elliott writes a monthly column on Washington State Ferries for this newspaper.