The Commute

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Evergreen Freedom Foundation Jumps on Ferries

October 15th, 2008 by ed friedrich

Evergreen Freedom Foundation President Bob Williams will join more than a dozen volunteers from the group’s Citizens Action Network at Colman Dock in Seattle on Thursday, Oct. 16 to pass out fliers to ferry riders about the condition of the Washington State Ferries.  It also will introduce people to group’s new ferries Web site,  www.ferry-tales.org.

The foundation is a private, nonprofit public policy think tank based in Olympia. Williams was a Republican state legislator. The group’s mission is to advance individual liberty, free enterprise, and responsible government.

2 Responses to “Evergreen Freedom Foundation Jumps on Ferries”

  1. Bob Distler Says:

    Whatever else the Evergreen “Freedom” Foundation is, it has proven itself time and again to be an anti-government group in favor of privatization of essential public services as the be-all end-all panacea to virtually every problem encountered by public agencies.

    No one doubts there are problems within the ferry system, just as there are in other state agencies, along with private icons such as Boeing and Microsoft.

    Having said that, if the Evergreen group knows of some private agency that would take on the operation of our ferry system and continue to provide service throughout its network at fares even approaching those currently in effect, I for one would be happy to hear about such a solution.

    Isolated criticism is always easier than constructive solutions, folks.

  2. Amber Gunn Says:

    Bob,

    You are correct that EFF has proposed privatizing much of the ferry system. We have also proposed privatizing other arenas of government as well. We call this the “Yellow Pages” test. If it can be found in the yellow pages, then government can almost always pay someone else to do it rather than taking on the operation.

    Government has overstepped its role in many arenas, and cost taxpayers millions needlessly and crowded out private sector competition as a result.

    As for the ferries, here is what we suggest on our site, http://www.ferry-tales.org, and what we’ve been suggesting for years.

    You can find this under the “Ferry solutions? Here are a few” section of the website.

    Washington State Ferries could be privatized. Privatizing the ferry system is always a controversial topic. Prior to the 1950s, ferry service in Puget Sound was provided by a private operator. What happened? In the late 1940s, ferry workers’ labor unions got higher wages from the private company. When the company asked the state to allow it to increase fares by 30% to make up the cost, the state refused and ferry service came to a grinding halt. The state then took over and has provided ferry service since 1951.

    Washington State Ferries should actively solicit private-sector proposals. WSF and other ferry planners, with an obligation to serve the public interest, should incorporate private-sector alternatives in their planning. Proposals for private ferry service should be actively solicited (for both planned and existing WSF routes) and accepted in those cases where the public interest (as opposed to WSF’s interest) is better served by the private sector. If existing WSF routes are replaced with private-sector service, then the state could redirect existing vessels to routes that lack private-sector proposals.

    Opponents of ferry privatization argue that private companies do not find operating ferries a viable business venture. That is true in Washington state because three very restrictive state laws discourage private companies from operating the ferry system:

    • Ten mile rule – No provider may operate a ferry service within a ten mile radius of a route currently offered by WSF unless the operator receives a franchise from WSDOT or a waiver from the Utilities and Transportation Commission.
    • Assumption of labor agreement obligations – Any party renting, leasing, or chartering a ferry from WSF must operate under WSF labor agreements.
    • Contracting out prohibition – The state cannot contract out for labor if the contract would have the effect of terminating classified employees.

    These laws effectively prohibit private companies from operating an efficient ferry system because they may not offer service on popular ferry routes and they must abide by costly union agreements WSF has made with employees. Moreover, even if the state wanted to contract out ferry service to the private sector, they could not do it unless current WSF employees were hired by the private operator.

    Before privatizing the ferry system, these three laws must be abolished. They serve no purpose other than to protect union bosses and the state monopoly on the system.

    Instead of inefficiently spending 350 billion dollars a year, the state should consider bringing back the “mosquito fleet.” In the early 1900s, small packet ships run by private operators known as the “mosquito fleet” were the sole means of transportation for people and goods in Puget Sound. But the advent of the car and the freeway system rendered these boats obsolete. In 1990, the Washington Public Ports Association published a report showing that establishing a new mosquito fleet throughout Puget Sound is viable and could be started very quickly. Many of the current WSF routes would be served by the new mosquito fleet. And while one-way fares for riding the mosquito fleet would be higher than current WSF fares, this should come as no surprise to ferry riders. Ferries are a premium service and the cost should be borne by those who use it.

    Establishing the mosquito fleet, thereby removing state control of the ferry system, will allow the $700 million per biennium spent on the ferry system to be used for highway congestion relief projects—or to help close the incoming $3.2 billion deficit.

    Privatization and competitive bidding in transportation represent opportunities to save the state millions of dollars and direct that savings into projects that actually help solve our traffic mess.