Bremerton Ferry Tickets, Con’t.

I’m a day later than I’d hoped in posting this, since the letter below was published Tuesday. But if you don’t mind some day-old commentary on an issue our commentors seem to love, here you are. As a token to ask any good Bremerton reader’s forgiveness with, here’s a cool old photo of 4th Street our Web Editor, Angela Dice, found this week.

One thing I like about newspapers is that they published viewpoints critical of themselves. How many other industries do that? The trucking company makes it real obvious that you to call an 800 number to complain about bad driving, but that’s as close to announcing fault as I can think of off the top of my head.

There just aren’t many that allow customers that kind of ability to point out shortcomings, and my guess is publishing such criticism isn’t taught at most business schools. But like many unique quirks that make the news industry run slightly different from other private enterprise, it’s also endearing in a way. (At least until the anonymous commentors join in the boot party.)

We don’t only do it to stand by our mission of openness and community dialogue, though that’s a big part of the practice. If we can dish it out, we should be able to take it. But criticism is also helpful in bringing up a range of ideas when done fairly — like in Petra Hellthaler’s letter to the editor in response to Ed Friedrich’s story on ferry tickets (which was, incidentally, prompted by another letter to the editor). She brings up a few points that didn’t make the cut as Ed reported on the question he posed to WSF officials.

I liked two things Petra brought up for discussion:
1.) Do Bainbridge customers ever get Bremerton tickets?
2.) Did the Bremerton ridership increase she references coincide with self-serve kiosks being installed at Colman Dock?

My take, if I’m understanding her points correctly, from what we talked about in editing the story:
1.) Probably, and Bainbridge riders probably don’t notice or say anything about it. WSF says they hear the complaint less than a dozen times a year; in my time at the Sun I’d guess it comes up once every three or four months in a letter or call from a reader. So it’s not all that often, even on the Bremerton route. What seems to be driving the complaint is the perception among Bremerton riders (and I am one myself) that they get shortchanged. So, I’d reason, Bremerton riders are far more likely to check the destination on the ticket. Also, the higher percentage of cars going through requesting Bainbridge tickets make it statistically more likely that the ticket agent is going to pass a Bainbridge ticket to a Bremerton passenger than vice-versa. I’m not saying that’s right, just what the odds would be.
2.) Maybe, but the incorrect tickets are given to drivers, not walk ons. So that wouldn’t be a factor. Also, I’m pretty sure walk-on passengers are hand-counted by a WSF employee at the end of the gangway. I don’t know which count is used in compiling ridership numbers, but there would, at least it appears, to be two sources of data.

I still like the idea pitched in the comments section from the original story, which suggests WSF should come up with a secondary counting mechanism like an air hose. Seems really reasonable. Also, here’s my favorite common sense solution, again from a letter.

One other ferry note for today: In Friedrich’s story on the Bremerton tunnel completion, he reports that a decision on allowing (or, not allowing, rather) right-hand turns onto Washington Avenue from the terminal. The state DOT, after first saying it was an idea, then to a temporary plan, is now saying it’s a done deal. We editorialized about this a few weeks ago, saying DOT was being heavy handed in mandating the traffic pattern. To now do away with the “trial period” that was earlier announced, well, I’d say our stance is justified.

— David Nelson

6 thoughts on “Bremerton Ferry Tickets, Con’t.

  1. The article said WSF claimed not to be making decisions based on the ticket sales data, but didn’t say what WSF actually claims to use.

    Compare the traffic count estimates based on “actual counts” for vehicles boarding in Bremerton and for vehicles departing the ferry in Winslow to the WSF ridership numbers for 2007.

    The WSDOT traffic count is here:
    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/mapsdata/tdo/PDF_and_ZIP_Files/Annual_Traffic_Report_2007.pdf

    The WSF vehicle numbers are here:
    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/traffic_stats/annualpdf/2007.pdf

    The estimates based on actual counts show daily averages of 1100 vehicles departing Bremerton (and apparently no count from the Seattle side–at least, not that I found). Double that to estimate the total number of vehicles going both ways and multiply by 365 to get a total vehicle count estimate of 803,000 for the Bremerton-Seattle “run.”

    Likewise, the Bainbridge Island run has an estimate based on an actual count of vehicles departing the ferry and going on SR 305. It is a daily average of 5600. That is 2,044,000 when multiplied by 365.

    The WSF numbers are bigger for Bainbridge and smaller for Bremerton. For the Seattle-Bremerton run it is 734,378 versus the “actual count” estimate of 803,000. For the Bainbridge-Seattle run it is 2,070,386 versus the “actual count” estimate of 2,044,000.

    Whatever WSF uses to measure the number of vehicles using each run, it appears that several tens of thousands of vehicles are not “counted” for Bremerton and several tens of thousands of vehicles are claimed for Bainbridge that don’t show up in the “actual count.”

    It would be nice to find out precisely what WSF claims to use in determining levels of service, since that is the point raised by those who complain about the inaccurate ticket sales records. If they don’t rely on ticket sales data, what do they use? Your article didn’t say.

  2. After writing the comment above, I realized that I didn’t have to double the Winslow ferry landing “actual count” daily average; so it must have been a count of vehicles going and coming. I looked again at the WSDOT annual traffic report and found that the Bremerton ferry landing has 2 different numbers–the one on page 174 of the pdf file showing vehicles departing Bremerton that I had noticed (1100), and another on the next page that refers only to vehicles departing the ferry landing at Bremerton and going onto SR 304 (1000).

    My estimate of the Bremerton run’s vehicles based on “actual counts” of vehicles should then be: 1100+1000=2100 daily average; and 2100X365=766,500 annual total. Compare that “actual count” estimate to the annual total for vehicles in the WSF report based on ticket sales (734,378).

    It appears that roughly 30,000 vehicles a year are reported as using the Bainbridge run based on ticket sales data when they may actually be using the Bremerton run based on “actual count” estimates.

    Why would more vehicles go from Bremerton than return to Bremerton on the same run? Probably because anyone who misses the Bremerton ferry in Seattle simply takes the next Bainbridge Island ferry rather than wait for an hour or more for the next Bremerton ferry.

  3. Bob,

    In response to your last question – an alternate explanation behind why more vehicles would go from Bremerton than return to Bremerton could be the fact that it’s much more economical to drive from Seattle to Bremerton (especially if one has a number of passengers with them) If one does have to take a car to Seattle it makes sense to drive on the ferry from Bremerton (only have to pay for the car, no passengers, and can avoid the toll on Tacoma Narrows Bridge) and then for the return to Bremerton (don’t have to pay the toll for bridge, and if driving on ferry would have to pay for the car and passengers).

  4. That’s probably correct. Unless traffic is really miserable, many people would choose to drive back through Tacoma rather than pay for one or more passengers in the vehicle. I hadn’t thought of that, even though it seemed to me that the difference between 1100 a day from Bremerton and 1000 a day from Seattle was a little high if it only resulted from people choosing not to wait in Seattle at the ferry dock for the next ferry to Bremerton. Good catch!

  5. Bob —
    We’ve been asking WSF about where specifically the traffic count comes from, it’s a good question. Ed Friedrich has a few calls in, and after being passed around a bit he was told that the person who knows will be in Monday. Hopefully we get that answer soon, and we’ll let everybody know.

    -David

  6. David,

    If you read the introduction to the WSDOT annual traffic report for 2007 (the first link I posted in the comment above), you will see that the ferry landings have “automated data collection stations.” If you then go to page 6, you’ll find the “FY06” identification code for Bremerton and FY07 code for Winslow. (FY apparently stands for ferry, not fiscal year.) Then go to page 20 and you’ll find the counts for weekdays and weekends for the FY06 and FY07 ferry landings.

    It appears that for some period of time during the year WSDOT has some kind of mechanism for making an actual count of vehicles using the ferries. I don’t see in the report any indication that this automated system works every day. It may be used to obtain a representative sample from which to make a reasonably reliable estimate of daily averages and annual totals.

    The question is not just what provides the “actual count” shown in that traffic report.

    The question is: What data does WSDOT/WSF use to determine ridership on each ferry route when making decisions about service levels?

    You’ve reported that they don’t act like evil people and intentionally cheat Bremerton. What a relief!

    Now, ask them what they, as nice, honorable people, use as their factual basis for making rational decisions about service levels.

    They appear to have two sources of data–the apparently mistake-ridden ticket sales records and some sort of “automated data collection” system.

    How reliable does each one appear to be?

    How do they resolve the apparent contradiction between the two, which apparently involves many thousands of vehicles?

    If they are making rational decisions about service levels, the answers ought to be easy to provide. They would have already been locating their data, figuring out how to resolve the conflicts, and making decisions based on their best judgment.

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