Washington State Ferries (WSF) said it will work to implement a majority of 36 recommendations made by an independent panel to improve ferry operations.
Changes will come in ferry management, vessel and terminal maintenance, finance, scheduling, labor and customer service, according to an action plan the Ferries Division of the Washington State Department of Transportation submitted to Gov. Chris Gregoire.
“We have a world-class ferry system that provides marine highways throughout the Puget Sound region that are vital to our economy and our way of life,” Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said. “We welcome these recommendations, some of which offer significant opportunities to reshape how WSF operates.”
In March, Gov. Gregoire asked the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) to conduct a review of how well WSF has implemented changes recommended by past system reviews and audits, and to make further recommendations for efficiency improvements. The PVA is the leading national organization for public and private ferry and other passenger-vessel agencies and businesses. A national expert review panel met six times this summer to review WSF and complete a report.
“We understand that implementing the recommendations will require significant changes to the way we do business,” said David Moseley, assistant secretary for WSF. “Some of them will require changes in legislation, and some will require extensive discussions with our bargaining units. We’re ready to move forward with the hard work ahead of us.”
In a response and action plan presented to the Governor’s Office, Moseley said WSF will work to implement the majority of the recommendations, including:
• Making vessel captains management’s representative on the ferries.
• Improving accident- and injury-prevention measures for passengers and crews.
• Improving ways to measure success in areas such as customer satisfaction, on-time performance, and cost efficiency.
• Ensuring that staffing on the vessels is appropriate for the number of passengers being carried.
• Imposing a systemwide, two-minute loading cut-off before sailings.
• Requiring staff to meet new customer-service standards.
Some recommendations which will require further analysis include:
• Changing from a state-run agency to a different type of governance.
• Consolidating and expediting shipyard work to reduce vessel out-of-service time.
• Using pricing or other strategies to manage demand, such as peak-period pricing or off-peak discounts.
Moseley said WSF does not concur with a few of the recommendations, including:
• Reducing the staff hours of the engine-room crew. It is more cost-effective to have engine-room crews perform vessel maintenance and repairs during evening tie-ups than dispatching crews from WSF’s Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility to do that work or bringing the vessels to Eagle Harbor.
• Adding a second and third shift at Eagle Harbor to perform vessel maintenance and repairs. WSF has examined this option in the past and determined that it is not feasible, effective or financially beneficial, given issues such as the wide geographic distribution of the system and noise ordinances on Bainbridge Island (where Eagle Harbor is located).
The Governor’s Office will review the report and may provide further direction to WSF.