New ferry schedule grinds out small successes

Although no one is proclaiming a miracle, Washington State Ferries officials and some of their most critical observers can agree on at least one thing —the recently revamped schedule for the triangle route seems to be delivering on at least some of its promises.

“I thought I’d be the last person to say it, but I think they’ve finally improved service for Southworth,” said Southworth resident Michael Droker, who commutes to Boeing in Renton.

Nearly a month after a “more executable” schedule was introduced for the complex Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route historically plagued by late departures and clogged traffic, Service Planning Manager Dave Remagen said he’s seen noticeable improvements in those two areas.

“One of the objectives of the new schedule was to increase on-time performance,” Remagen said, which he explained was boats leaving within five minutes of their posted departure time. “That performance is better than it was, and it is improving day by day.”

Another important aspect of increasing on-time performance — besides making sure commuters make crucial connections with Metro Transit and others — was decreasing the amount of overtime WSF was paying their crews as sailings were delayed.

“We’ve already had a noticeable decrease in overtime costs so far (since the new schedule began Sept. 21),” he said.

Remagen said the old schedule — in place since he came on board 12 years ago — was written for smaller boats that carried far fewer cars to load and unload at least twice during each two-stop sailing.

“They didn’t need as much time to load and off-load as we do now,” he said.

Remagen said he was also encouraged to see improved traffic flow through the Fauntleroy dock, known as a notorious “bottleneck” that creates long lines of traffic on West Seattle streets 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.

Chair of the Fauntleroy Ferry Advisory Committee Gary Dawson agreed with Remagen that traffic is moving much more smoothly through the dock and there seems to be shorter lines of cars backed up Fauntleroy Way.

“I have seen some improvement in some cases, but it’s a little bit too early to tell if that’s going to be substantial,” he said.

Mike Sudduth, chair of the Vashon committee, said the responses he had received from commuters confirmed there was an improvement in the flow of cars through the dock, but the single-slip was still causing ferry boats to idle in the Sound waiting to dock as other boats continued to load.

While most WSF officials and committee members agree much of the problems at the Fauntleroy dock will continue as long as there is only one dock slip, Remagen said the new schedule was designed to ease some of the congestion.

“Another key focus was to allocate slot times for the boats at Fauntleroy, and pay attention the way the boats are sequenced,” Remagen said, explaining that since 70 percent of the traffic that moves through that dock is destined for Vashon, they focused on moving that Vashon-bound traffic quickly and efficiently off the dock, especially in crucial afternoon commute times.

“That approach seems to be working,” he said.

Marjorie Rees, chair of the Southworth FAC, said despite a rocky start, the new schedule seems to be smoothing out and showing promise.

A week after the new schedule began, Rees said WSF officials showed FAC members on-time performances.

“A lot were very late,” Rees said. “But a lot were on-time, as well.”

But Rees said many factors added to the late sailings, such as the fog and mechanical problems on the first Friday of the new schedule that sent a normally sluggish late-week commute from bad to worse as crews struggled with a new schedule and a boat breakdown.

The scheduled 4:00 pm departure from Southworth did not leave until after 4:30, backing up the following departures about a half hour or so as well.

“It was a nightmare,” she said. “That’s a day I think the ferry system would like to forget.”

WSF spokeswoman Susan Harris-Huether said the first couple of weeks of the new schedule were particularly difficult because not only did the schedule change, but the crews did, as well.

Harris-Huether said many staff members that used to work on the discontinued passenger-only sailings were reassigned to the triangle route, creating more rough edges to smooth out.

“(The triangle) and the Mukilteo routes are our hardest routes, because you don’t get a chance for a break,” she said. “You’re running up stairs, you’re docking, you’re loading, then unloading.”

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