Study plumbs depths of WSF | Ferry Fare | October

Washington State Ferries will meet with the Ferry Advisory Committee and the public at 7 p.m., Sept. 28, in the Kingston Community Center to discuss the new schedule.

Topics will include how the schedule has affected on-time performance and traffic congestion, what’s being done to improve loading and offloading, input on how the schedule is working out and what changes are needed.

Finally, an informed ferry study

Since 2007 there have been 600 pages of studies and a blizzard of recommendations published on how Ferries can improve. So why is this new study from the Passenger Vessel Association important?

The previous studies were done by consultants with no experience running ferries. This time the study team is made up of experienced ferry operators who can smell out the good and bad in Ferries and credibly sort out what recommendations are worth doing and what are not.

Here are the report’s highlights and my view of them:

Ferries has too many agencies, commissions and committees telling it what to do. This arrangement is both costly and a major distraction from the job of running our ferries. Amen!

Ferries should focus on managing capital projects and let major contractors to do the engineering. No other system engineers their own boats. Instead, other ferry systems rely on experienced shipbuilders and engineering specialists. Our unusable Super class generators and Chetzemoka’s vibrations testify that the PVA is right.

Ferries’s capital priority should be on a dedicated fund for building 144-car ferries including two backup boats. Our constantly changing ferry budget plays havoc with buying ferries. While the 144-car ferry building program was ready to go in 2003 it still hasn’t started. Now we have no back-up boats and the boat price has grown by $20 million.

We need the 144-car ferry flexibility the new 64-car ferries will be too small to serve on other than a few routes.

Ferries should bid ferries construction nationwide.

The high cost of Washington-built ferries will likely make replacing our ferries unaffordable. The Chetzamoka, built here, cost $70 million while her sister ship, built in Mississippi, cost $33 million. Our 144-car ferries will cost $105 million while equivalent Molinari-class ferries, built in Wisconsin, cost $40 million.

Without national competition we lose federal funding which, for example, paid for 80 percent of the Molinari ferry’s construction

Ferries need a business plan based on performance metrics and to cut labor costs.

Ferries’ priorities blow with the political winds. Ferries needs objective measures and consistent goals. BC Ferries has a performance-based business plan on their website. Kingston’s Linda Paralez, a management performance expert, made an enlightening analysis of Ferries and labor cost increases. It will be in the next Ferry Fare.

Ferries, not the Transportation Commission, should set fares and there should be automatic increases.

The commission only adds headaches to the fare process. Last year it was their super summer surcharge. This summer they decided, for political reasons, to delay a 2.5 percent increase. Now they want riders to pay extra for their delay.

Consider the recommendation for automatic fare increases to be wishful thinking as none of the PVA’s ferry systems get automatic increases.

Ferries needs price hedging and a fuel surcharge.

Most transit agencies use price hedging to solve fuel price volatility. Nonetheless we’ll probably get a surcharge as well. The devil is in the details of how the surcharge will work. Unless Ferries follows the law, and incorporates public input into the surcharge rules, we fear the surcharge will be a shameless money grab.

Also the PVA recommended some on-board loading and offloading strategies. While these strategies will save some time, the real problem we have is the pedestrian and vehicle traffic that blocks our ferry offloading.

The PVA report is on the Ferries website — — and is well worth reading.

Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee member Walt Elliott can be reached at