You’ve heard this one before. On my way back from Seattle a few weeks ago, the attendant that sold me my ferry ticket to board the Bremerton boat marked me down as heading to Bainbridge.
I politely protested. He said it didn’t matter. I insisted that, as a reporter, I had been told repeatedly by ferry officials that it did matter. He called his boss. His boss told him it didn’t matter.
I left with my receipt and plenty of questions for ferries officials. Once again, a Bremerton rider had been counted as heading to Bainbridge, as I’d heard many times before. Only this time, I witnessed it with my own eyes.
I consulted Ian Sterling, a ferries spokesman, about my receipt. Had something changed, in light of the more careful counts crews are doing to ensure they’re following Coast Guard capacity requirements?
No, Sterling said. The attendants should be marking them down correctly. And his supervisor should’ve voided the sale and started the process again. Sterling said the staff would be getting a “written reminder” to ensure accuracy.
“This is something that comes up from time to time,” Sterling said.
Why it’s important: The ferry system uses those ridership statistics for planning its route capacity. So it is a big deal, and if you find yourself in a similar situation, please let me know.
In my own case, the attendant vowed to count the next two motorists as going to Bremerton regardless, as a consolation prize.
I’m puzzled about why this keeps happening. I can only chalk it up to a disconnect between those managing the ferries and the people selling the tickets. It only applies when you drive your vehicle on the vessel in Seattle; walk-on passengers buy a specific ticket.
But has it affected the statistics? Hard to say.
The Bainbridge route indeed has higher ridership. Bainbridge’s carried 6.3 million riders in 2015; Bremerton’s carried 2.7 million. But of those, 25 percent drove on the ferry in Bremerton, compared with 30 percent on Bainbridge in 2015. This might just be Bremerton’s typically-high walk-on passenger counts but if attendants continue to count Bremerton’s vehicles as Bainbridge’s, it stands to reason it will have an effect.
But for some Bremerton ferry riders, getting the wrong receipt is a symptom of a bigger issue: That their route is treated differently. Bainbridge has vessels built in the 1990s; Bremerton’s are late-60s era models. Bainbridge has more sailings. One commuter I talked to even feels the terminal in Seattle is nicer on the Bainbridge side. And last week, when the Kaleetan ferry experienced steering issues, passengers to Bremerton were ultimately taken to Bainbridge, where a bus waited to take them home. Generally, when a Bainbridge vessel goes out of service, it is quickly replaced, setting off a domino effect that impacts the Bremerton run.
Even the credit card system at Colman Dock doesn’t acknowledge Bremerton. Regardless of the destination the attendant marks you down for, your credit card statement will say “WSFERRIES-BAINBRIDGE,” as the line item no matter what.
I asked Sterling if he hears such complaints about favoritism.
“We hear from most routes from time to time that they believe other routes get more attention,” he told me.
The San Juans routes, for instance, feel Seattle “get more than they do,” he said.
“I can tell you that WSF is focused on the system as a whole,” Sterling said. “Bremerton is one of our core central sound routes.”
He closed with one final point: Guess who’s getting a brand new $123 million ferry next spring?
But when it comes to receipts, it appears the only way to ensure your trip counts to its proper destination is to keep a close eye on it and contact the ferry system if you’re Bainbridged* by mistake. I’ll be happy to help, too.
*Not a real word.