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WSF denies revised schedule drafted

Irate ferry commuters packed the Harper Evangelical Free Church Tuesday night to reject a new fall schedule reportedly drafted by the Washington State Ferries that would eliminate nearly all direct sailings between Southworth and Fauntleroy.

A crowd of more than 200 filled the chairs, spilled into the hallway and effectively took over the South Sound Ferry Advisory Committee Meeting, turning a 10-minute public-comment session into two hours of questions, suggestions and more than one angry retort about every facet of the ferry system.

Ferry officials planned to address several issues at the meeting, including updates on security and revenues, but after introductory remarks from WSF CEO Mike Thorne and South Region Terminal Manager Mike Anderson, the frustrated crowd took the microphone and never gave it back.

“I think everyone here wants to hear about the same thing, so let’s just get to the schedule,” said one attendee.

Most of the commuters were there because South Sound FAC chairwoman Marjorie Rees handed out fliers at the Southworth terminal alerting them to revisions to the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth schedule — especially the potential elimination of the 4:20 p.m. direct sailing from Fauntleroy to Southworth that carries more than 100 South Kitsap commuters — and urging them to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Rees also invited local legislators and city officials, most of whom attended, including 26th District Reps. Pat Lantz and Lois McMahan, state Sen. Bob Oke, Kitsap County Commissioners Jan Angel and Patty Lent, Port Orchard Mayor Jay Weatherill, and City Councilmembers John Clauson and Ron Ryder.

But WSF spokeswoman Pat Patterson quickly told the crowd she would not be handing out a draft schedule for review because there wasn’t one.

“If you are here because you believe there is a draft schedule, you have been misinformed,” Patterson said. “That was a miscommunication between the FAC and the WSF.”

Ray Deardorf, director of planning, confirmed that WSF is working with the FAC to develop a new fall schedule, but it is in the preliminary stages and currently several “concepts” are being considered.

“We have looked at several different options, and the issue of the direct sailings has come up,” Deardorf said. “We came up with a concept schedule we felt could be achievable, which we presented to the FAC in late March, and they asked us to go back. It by no means is our proposal.”

Deardorf said there are several challenges in creating the schedule for the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route, commonly referred to as “the triangle.”

Asked why the schedule was being changed, Thorne said it was just one of the changes being considered since he took over management of the financially challenged system in late 2001. The overall goal, he said, is to maximize operational efficiencies and create a schedule that can be completed on time.

“One of the problems we’re trying to address is the situation with the triangle, where we probably provide the worst service,” Thorne said.

Thorne said most of the challenges on the route stem from the “bottleneck” created at the Fauntleroy dock most weekday evenings as ferry workers try to herd hundreds of cars through the small entrance to the dock, “stage” the Vashon and Southworth lines separately and then load everyone fast enough to keep the boats on schedule.

Dave Remagen, service planning manager and scheduler, said the current process at Fauntleroy is like hooking a fire hose to a garden hose and expecting a quick and easy flow of water.

“We cannot consistently get enough Southworth cars through to fill the boats,” Remagen said, explaining that only 90 Southworth cars can be staged and ready to load at Fauntleroy, while a smaller boat can hold 100 and the larger ones 130 to 140.

Remagen said they are forced to use a Seattle street for car storage, and the situation has only worsened in recent years since ferry workers can no longer stage vanpools in the parking lot near the dock’s entrance.

Thorne said WSF has tried for several years to work with Seattle officials to widen the dock or add signs and lane markings on Fauntleroy Drive to help improve efficiency with little success.

“The city is not interested in expanding the terminal,” Thorne said.

“Everything always goes back to the Fauntleroy dock,” said Remagen. “The question is, how do we deal with a faulty situation that is inadequate and try to make it a little better.”

Remagen said some of the changes could include adding Vashon stops to previously direct routes to fill up the boats on many Fauntleroy-originating sailings, but WSF is also considering moving the entire schedule back or forward 10 minutes to allow for more time to load and offload.

None of the changes up for consideration got a warm reception from the commuters, who had plenty of suggestions of their own.

If you want to cut costs, some said, make monthly passes available for drive-on passengers rather than printing up booklets that are bought and thrown away every two weeks, and don’t waste labor costs paying a person to stand collecting tickets in a bucket.

To help fill up boats more efficiently, commuters suggested waving Southworth-bound cars through the booths at Fauntleroy as is done for those Vashon-bound. To streamline the runs and increase on-time averages, stop having boats sit at Vashon on layovers for no explicable reason, and organize the schedule so boats are not left hovering in the water for 10-30 minutes waiting for another boat to leave the single slip at Southworth or Fauntleroy.

“There’s a lot of good ideas being brought up here, and I was just wondering if anyone from management is taking notes,” asked Don Grimes, a Manchester resident who commutes to Seattle. Ferry officials assured him they were taking notes, and Patterson said anyone should feel free to e-mail suggestions to her anytime.

Oke told the commuters that if they were unhappy with the WSF service, that they should keep attending these meetings in such large numbers.

“This turnout will get you better service,” he said.

One of the attendees said that although he did not trust everything the WSF officials were telling the commuters, he did hope the large group made an impression.

“(The WSF officials) were lying through their teeth,” Southworth resident Carl Coyle said. “But that was a phenomenal turnout. All of a sudden people are hurt and mad, and I think they will somewhat listen.”

Southworth resident Michael Droker, who commutes to Boeing in Renton, attended the meeting Tuesday night because he does not want WSF to eliminate the 4:20 p.m. direct boat from Fauntleroy to Southworth, which he rides in a vanpool.

Droker said it is the most efficient, full Southworth-bound boats, full of 100 cars that include 30 vanpools. If the WSF has to cut a route to cut costs, he said, there are many more under-utilized crossings that should be considered for elimination.

Droker said if that sailing is cut and replaced by two runs that stop at Vashon, it will not only increase his commute and reduce the time he has for his family and leisure, but will leave more than half the commuters at the dock.

“They not only increase the crossing time from 20 minutes to 35, but whenever they load Vashon and Southworth, they limit the Southworth cars to 30,” Droker said. “There’s 30 vanpools alone — what is going to happen to them?

Droker said he hopes the huge turnout Tuesday will make WSF reconsider removing that run.

“I hope it makes them take a step back, but from previous experience, I do believe the (rumored schedule) is pretty much a done deal,” he said. “They claimed there is no draft schedule, but they didn’t conform that the 4:20 will not be cut, either.”

Chairwoman Rees said in her 15 years on the FAC, the concept schedules presented by the WSF for the committee to review were nearly always finalized more or less intact with perhaps some minor adjustments, but never any major changes.

WSF officials said the group drafting the new schedule will meet again on May 27, and they hope to complete a draft schedule at that time. Once complete, the draft will be posted on the Web site and officials will begin collecting public input. Commuters are encouraged to email their comments to ferry staff or their ferry advisory committee.

The group will meet the last during the end of June where the schedule will be finalized based on recommendations from ferry staff and public input. Deardorf said the schedule must be completed by July 1 for coordination with Metro transit and other agencies.

E-mail South Sound FAC chair Marjorie Rees at margierees@charter.net, or e-mail WSF spokeswoman Pat Patterson at patterp@wsdot.wa.gov

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