You've Got Mail: 'Ferry Delayed'

Wednesday, August 25, 1999
It's never easy being a commuter across Puget Sound. Vessels break, weather intrudes and boats overload. But it just got a little bit easier. Washington State Ferries has introduced a new service to help commuters plan their trips, in spite of breakdowns or weather problems. The new service, email notification, sends electronic messages to customers signed up for a specific route or routes. The service is working for many ferry commuters. More than 900 have signed up, even though the new system is still in the testing mode. "As a commuter, I get as frustrated as anyone when there's a disruption in service, but things do happen," writes Bremerton commuter Edward Shanahan. "Your notices give me the ability to plan around the inevitable glitches that occur, and that's the best anyone could hope for." Charles Finance, a south Sound passenger, wrote, "The email notification service has been a great relief to me as a commuter on the Seattle/Bremerton and Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth routes. As you know, it is a great frustration to hustle to the dock only to find there is no ferry available, or worse, none in sight. This is not only frustrating for the commuter waiting in the rain and cold weather, but frustrating for family who are waiting to pick up passengers who do not arrive. "Your new notification system solves this. It gives us time to plan alternate routes, notify the rides we connect with and even notify our workplace if we need to leave/arrive at a different time." Armen Levonian, a Seattle to Vashon passenger-only customer, wrote to say, "I feel considerable peace of mind when I haven't received a message about the ferry being down. In fact, I have been bragging to everyone in the foot-ferry waiting room. Those who don't have access to the Internet or email at their jobs are upset they are missing out on this opportunity." The system was created by WSDOT Webmaster Wayne Szydtowski, who set about devising the system after listening to the complaints and frustrations of the WSF customer information staff. Szydtowski turned the project's "grunt" work over to Western Washington University intern Mike Sheppard, who made the system happen. But the program is only as good as the information it sends out. The staff in the ferry system's 24-hour Operations Center is trying to send out updated information as soon as they know it. "The notification system works great for changes in service that we know about in advance," says Sandra Gee, customer information assistant and one of the primary message senders. "But it is not the answer for last-minute disruptions." WSF is looking at variable-message signs and readerboards to help get the word out on last-minute disruptions. Message signs are planned for State Route 104 eastbound toward Kingston, State Route 3 (toward Bremerton) and near Mukilteo. Reader-boards are planned for Colman Dock, Pier 50, and Bremerton Transit Center. "We hope variable-message signs will help our customers make transportation plans at key decision points," says Leonard Smith, who handles such signage plans for WSF. WSF is also working to get real-time wait information for ferry customers. A pilot queue-detection program, which will give real-time wait information, is slated for testing at Kingston and Bainbridge Island late this summer. Meanwhile, ferry customers can utilize the email notification system when planning their commute. "Nothing is going to make everyone happy," writes Lynn Hood, a Bremerton commuter. "But the email notification system is a fantastic way of keeping the largest number of people informed." Agreement Signed on Wilmington Harbor Project Officials from the State of North Carolina and the Department of the Army signed an agreement recognizing a $329 million partnership to deepen and improve Wilmington Harbor in the "Wilmington Harbor Project Signing Ceremony." The Wilmington Harbor Project is the largest project ever undertaken by the Corps' Wilmington District. The project will deepen the Cape Fear River from the ocean entrance channel to the port at Wilmington. A section of the Northeast Cape Fear River, north of downtown Wilmington, will also be deepened. The deeper ship channel will allow larger vessels to use the port, as well as allow vessels currently calling at Wilmington to do so fully loaded at all tides. The deeper ship channel provides benefits to the entire state of North Carolina, particularly through the facilities of the North Carolina State Ports Authority's Wilmington Terminal.
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