Community

WSF’s funding problems could undermine service

t State ferries officials continuing to sound the alarm in Kitsap County.

David Moseley, assistant secretary for Washington State Ferries (WSF), told a packed house in Kingston on Sept. 29 the ferry system is financially sunk.

WSF, which Moseley said is the third-largest ferry system in the world, is “in a financial crisis that has resulted in service disruption, an aging fleet and aging facilities.”

WSF also doesn’t see financial means in their capital budget to replace 60-year-old boats or acquire backup boats.

“A shortage of vessels is a massive challenge to us,” Moseley said. “If a boat went down we wouldn’t have a backup and would have to run the route with whatever boats are left on that run.”

With no empty seats left in the main meeting room of North Kitsap Fire & Rescue’s headquarters, attendees continued to filter in and stand against the back wall.

The meeting was not one of the regularly scheduled meetings for WSF; Kingston Citizens Advisory Council asked Moseley to speak at its monthly meeting upon noticing WSF planned a community meeting for the Kingston/Edmonds route Sept. 25 in Edmonds. One in Kingston was not scheduled.

Moseley, who was appointed to his assistant secretary position six months ago, said he attended about five other previous meetings in Kingston with various community groups.

“Our goal is to restore public trust and confidence in the ferry system and restore it to a sustainable financial state,” he said.

Financial sustainability, said Moseley, is typically described in terms of “out years” or the future; however, he said, “this is not financially sustainable, today.”

For the last nine years Washington Department of Transportation diverted $600 million to make up for the budget cuts handed to them by state legislature in 1999, Moseley said.

“We’ve lost 22 percent of our operating budget and 40 percent of our capital budget so we cut services and sailings on our routes and raised fares. Because of that we lost ridership.”

Since 2000, Moseley said WSF lost 11 percent of its ridership.

Moseley addressed the concern that ferries are the “economic lifeline” of many who live on the peninsulas — both Kitsap and Jefferson.

Problems addressed even included a low morale among WSF staff.

“When you’re going through hell, keep on going,” Moseley said. “We’re going to keep going.”

To do that he added WSF is prioritizing its funds in hopes of being able to:

• Build new boats. Moseley said WSF signed a contract with Todd Shipyard to create a technical design of three 144-car vessels due by the end of the year.

“Construction would start by the end of 2009,” Moseley said.

WSF also hopes to award bids for 64-car vessels to an area shipyard prior to Thanksgiving.

• Maintain present boats. Moseley said WSF is in an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard to be part of an interior hull inspection program.

• Complete a ferry finance study and long range plan. The plan is to go before the 2009 legislative session, Moseley said.

Just to maintain present services, the cost is $3.4 billion, Moseley said. “That’s a very big gap just to maintain our services. That’s not even thinking about adding other services.”

Improvements slated for the near future include possible implementation of a reservation system.

A pilot program is already in place on the Port Townsend/Keystone route to help mitigate the loss of the routes second vessel.

The 80-year-old vessel was taken out of commission. Moseley said a reservation system exists on the international route Anacortes to Sydney.

Transit enhancement and pricing strategies are also being looked at for future improvements, he said.

Moseley urged those in attendance to voice concerns to him personally. He can be reached at moseled@wsdot.wa.gov or (206) 515-3401.

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