Ode to WSF director who put system, riders first | Ferryfare

This month, David Moseley will be leaving Washington State Ferries. I’ve seen three directors in 12 years, so David’s six years is a long run in this frying pan of a job.

April Fool’s on the cartoon (see page 4). Our ferries will not be funded by pot sales as the bills to do that didn’t make it past the Legislature.

April 26 is “Save the Frogs Day.” April’s also “FROG” survey month. You can become of the FROG (Ferry Rider Opinion Group) and join in on the survey by signing up on WSF’s website. Why bother? The survey is WSF’s annual customer report card. It’s your turn.

Fair winds and following seas, David

This month, David Moseley will be leaving Washington State Ferries. I’ve seen three directors in 12 years, so David’s six years is a long run in this frying pan of a job.

David Moseley came to WSF from the background of a city manager, skilled in working in an environment of diverse political goals and egos to match.

As ferry funding went from plenty to scarcity during his tenure, David was well-suited to sail the formidable shoal waters that lie between a strong-willed Gov. Gregoire and the equally strong-willed Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, chair of the Senate’s Transportation Committee.

David quickly realized dealing with Olympia was uniquely his job and brought aboard George Capacci. George, with a maritime career, had “come up through the hawse pipe” to management. As assistant director, he kept the ferry propellers turning while David dealt with the dragons.

In real life, the WSF director doesn’t choose a course as he sees fit; rather, there are innumerable hands on the helm and a chorus of voices barking orders. David navigated these waters well even if some maneuvers did not please all the passengers.

David’s predecessor, Mike Anderson, had left him with a funded and ready-to-go program to build a new class of 144-car ferries. But no sooner had David come aboard than Gov. Gregoire, unnecessarily spooked about safety on the steel-electric class ferries, safety abruptly tied them all up. I say “unnecessary” because the U.S. Coast Guard was content to let the ferries continue sailing under a hull monitoring program. The governor’s edict eliminated Port Townsend’s service, a route in Sen. Haugen’s district. So the crisis began: Get replacement boats fast, build them in Washington, and don’t build the 144-car boats (being too big for Port Townsend sensibilities). David delivered three 64-car ferries and, in 2013, resurrected the 144-car ferry program.

When the Transportation Commission lobbied for “peak-hour pricing” that would kill our commuters, David responded with a reservation program instead. Rather than forcing riders off the boats, reservations would let riders decide the best time to ride. David came to all of Kingston’s reservation-planning meetings. Realizing that starting reservations with Kingston’s busy route risked disaster, he convinced the Legislature to phase reservations over several years, starting with Port Townsend and the San Juans.

David is pioneering LNG ferry fuel to address escalating fuel costs, emissions and supply vulnerability.  Although he heroically cut headquarters’ staff support, he was unable to turn the curve of operating costs rising at more than twice as fast inflation. Sen. Haugen, realizing that WSF’s sustainability would come through labor efficiency and not fares hikes, also took up the charge. She lost her job in the process, so financial sustainability remains a challenge for both of their successors.

David may be best known for getting up in front of riders at 450 public ferry meetings. He always showed up, actively listened, and did his level best to get every question answered.

In working with David through the Ferry Advisory Committees, we often disagreed with the courses he took. Nonetheless, David always put the ferry system and riders first. His job was never about him. That’s something rare in leadership today … or maybe that defines what real leadership is about.

— FerryFare is written by Walt Elliott, chairman of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee. Contact him at elliottmoore@comcast.net.