The Commute

An informative and entertaining discussion on our ferries and highways with Kitsap Sun reporters.
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Archive for November, 2008

State’s Win Is Nichols’ Loss

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Golden Gate Ferries’ decision to buy two used boats from Washington State Ferries instead of having Nichols Bros. Ship Builders construct a new one has prompted the Whidbey Island shipyard to temporarily lay off 30 people. The move, which is expected to last for three months, reduces the company’s employees to 150.

Nichols was bidding to build a ferry for Golden Gate, but was notified early this week that it chose to buy used vessels Chinook and Snohomish from Washington state. A Nichols spokesman said the company isn’t having financial problems, and has two ferries and two tug boats on backlog.

Nichols filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2007 and was sold to Ice Floe LLC. It is a subcontractor of Todd Shipyard in building up to three 144-car ferries for the state and in a press release Thursday said it was also subcontracting with Todd for two Island Home ferries. Todd was the only bidder on the 64-car vessels. The state is trying to figure out what to do with the bid, which came in more than it had expected.


Ferries Go Boingo

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, Boingo Wireless of Los Angeles is taking over operation of the Washington State Ferries’ Wi-Fi service from Parsons Transportation Group.

Under the new operator, commuters and tourists will pay $7.95 for Wi-Fi day passes, and can get unlimited service for $21.95 per month.


Long-Range Ferry Plan Delayed

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Washington State Ferries had planned to release its draft long-range plan on Nov. 21, present it to the public during meetings the first two weeks of December and have the final plan ready for the Legislature in January.

Those dates have been pushed back about three weeks, WSF director David Moseley said Monday, to allow for one more scenario to be analyzed. Given the deteriorating economic climate, WSF officials decided it’d be wise to develop an option that assumes they don’t get any new revenue.

The draft long-range plan will now be released in mid-December, public hearings held in early January and final plan delivered to the Legislature at the end of January.


What Happened at the Bridge Meeting?

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Well, I missed the first part of it. Got stuck in Navy Yard traffic. Wouldn’t you think The Commute guy should know better?

The one concrete thing the Narrows Bridge Citizens Advisory Committee did was pass a motion to keep the same exemptions. The only free passes will be to emergency vehicles on emergency runs. Most of the emergency vehicles affected are aid cars going to Tacoma hospitals, but that will mostly go away in March when Gig Harbor opens its own hospital.

The committee revisited the topic of discounts and pretty much agreed to keep those the same, too, although no motion was made. Those who use a transponder for electronic toll collection get a discount, those who don’t pay full price. They figure that covers all regular users, including the groups that might want cut rates — like disabled, seniors, students, etc. A bunch of different rates would be complicated and costly to collect.

There never were supposed to be transponder discounts. The legislature just funded them for the first year to make sure there wouldn’t be jam-ups at the toll booths. But the citizen’s advisory decided to continue them. You can consider them frequent-user rates, though you don’t need to be a frequent user to get them. You just have to have a transponder.

You’d think that everybody who wanted a transponder would have one by now. The bridge has been open nearly a year and a half. But Janet Matkin of the tolls office said they’re still setting up about 1,000 accounts a month. That’s surprising to them, too.

I jumped the gun last week in writing that early numbers show there won’t have to be a toll increase on July 1. There might not, but then again there might. After July, August and September they were up about $400,000 over projections, even though traffic was down. A lot of that money, however, came from surprising transponder sales. Now it looks like it could go either way and we won’t know until looking at traffic and revenue forecasts during three more meetings. The next one is Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Inn at Gig Harbor.

They want to keep the cash toll at an even dollar amount for ease and cost of collecting. It’s $4 now so it would have to go to $5. The electronic rate is $2.75, so it would probably jump to $3.75.

The next meeting they plan to vote on how much cushion they need to keep in the operations fund. They’re thinking 3 to 5 percent.

One way of looking at the tolls is you can pay them now or you can pay them later. The money can’t be used for anything except the bridge, so if you collect too much now you can delay raising the rate the next time.


Kingston Ferry Schedule Changes Postponed

Friday, November 14th, 2008

WSF was in the midst of changing the Kingston ferry schedule effective the first of the year to improve the route’s on-time performance and match it up better with transit connections. Today in Director David Moseley’s weekly update he says that’s been postponed because “additional time is needed to make sure the new schedule aligns with crew schedules, vessel fueling times and important connections for our customers.”

He said they got more than 80 comments from customers, which they appreciate and will help them come up with a schedule that works for as many people as possible.

Moseley had another update on something I’d written about a while back. WSF learned on Wednesday that the Coast Guard has approved Pierce County’s request for an extension on its drydock requirement for the Steilacoom II, which the state is leasing for the Port Townsend-Keystone route. It was supposed to be accomplished by the end of the year, but the Coast Guard is letting them slide until after the New Year’s weekend. After that, the route will have to put up with passenger-only service for a while until the Steilacoom II comes back. Passenger ferry details haven’t been worked out yet.


State Boat Builder Bidders Hard to Come By

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

It’s admirable that we want to keep as much work in-state as we can, especially they way the economy is today. But the requirement that state ferries be built by in-state shipyards isn’t working.

Each of the past two times the state put a ferry out for bid, only Todd Shipyards made one. And each time they were way, way over what the state figured they’d be.

Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, just left me a message, saying he’s opposed to building the ferries out of state. “We’ve got plenty of shipbuilding capacity and a lot of very fine workers in Washington state who are ready to build those boats.”

If that’s the case, and I believe him, it’d be nice if they’d step up.


Ferry Stuff Coming Up

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

There’s a lot going on with the state ferries, but most of it isn’t coming to a head for a little while. What to watch for:

Washington State Ferries is getting pretty close to finishing an investigation into what happened with the Walla Walla thrust bearing that knocked it out of service for several days and created a costly repair job. They’re almost finished interviewing people. If it’s determined that human error caused the problem, which has already been said to be the case, then they’ll move on to the disciplinary phase and proceed in accordance with the union contract.

The new Kingston-Edmonds ferry schedule should be coming out next week. WSF released a draft schedule a few weeks ago that it hopes will improve its on-time performance and match up better with transit connections. Riders offered tweaks to make it better for them, ferries staff incorporated, and now the final product is almost ready to roll out. It will take effect on Jan. 4.

The bid opening for building two Island Home ferries for the Port Townsend-Keystone route is Thursday at 11 a.m. It’ll be interesting to see how many shipyards bid.

WSF will unveil its draft long-range plan Monday to the Joint Transportation Committee’s Ferry Policy Group. It was going to go to the public on Nov. 20, but that’s evidently up for discussion now at the Monday meeting.

WSF is close to closing a sale for its four retired steel-electric ferries with Environmental Recycling Systems. The deal is for $500,000 plus 10 percent of recycling proceeds. PCB surveys should be completed next week and a deal signed by the end of the month. Steve Rodrigues of the Kalakala Foundation met with WSF leaders on Friday to try to convince them to sell at least one of the ferries to him to use to renovate the Kalakala, but the state isn’t interested.


HYPERMILING: Now, A Real Word! Mostly.

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

"Hypermiling" was the New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year.

It vindicates all that hard work . If one gets philosophical, one could ask, "If one is a hypermiler, is one really doing anything? Can one perform an action that has no dictionary-approved verb?" (One is also the philosopher’s preferred pronoun.)

Now it’s official. You’re hypermiling. Sounds a lot better than "driving slow," anyway.


Some Numbers in Kitsap Transit Deficit

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Wednesday’s story was meant to be an introduction to a process that I’ll get into in greater detail over the next month. Some questions were raised in comments, however, that I can try to answer now. Also, I suggest you go check out the numbers for yourself at http://www.kitsaptransit.org/Board/Board.html.
The board meetings usually start at 9:15 a.m., but I see on the KT Web site that the ones Nov. 18 and Dec. 16 will begin at 9:45 a.m.
Keep in mind that nothing is cast in stone. It’s just the beginning of the process and these are suggestions the board can look at to cut the budget.
Fares increases being looked at:
Increase vanpool fares to the low level of other Puget Sound transit agencies
Institute a 50-cent peak-hour surcharge before 8 a.m. and after 3:30 p.m.
Double the fare, to $3, for outlying area Access service.
Sales Tax Revenues:
From what I can gather from the numbers, the 2008 budget showed sales tax revenues budgeted at $32,370,000 (I don’t think they’ll get that much, but that’s what was budgeted). They’re projecting $28,690,000 in 2009, a drop of $3,680,000 from what was budgeted for this year. That tells me they would be $3.7 million in the hole plus whatever they fall short this year.
Ridership Increase Revenues
I can’t tell how much revenue they’ve gained from the 7.3 percent increase in ridership. This might give an indication. The budgeted amount of operating revenue for 2008 was $4,529,500 (The increased ridership will make the actual amount higher).   That’s mostly fares but includes parking fees, advertising revenue and rental income. They’re projecting that to go up to $7,7410,066 in 2009, not counting any fare increases, an increase of $2,880,566.
That would tell me that would have an extra $2.9 million from new riders to use to cut the deficit, plus whatever extra they bring in over what they budgeted this year.
I can’t find right now what diesel cost they’re budgeting for next year. It is $2.70 this year.
Fast ferries
The records show that of the $10.3 million in capital expenses for passenger ferries spent over the years, including both the Port Orchard-Bremerton route and the wake research/boat purchase, all but $200,000 came out of federal grants. That $200,000 was a match for Bremerton Transportation Center dock equipment that could still be reimbursed by the state.
Like I said, I’ll get into a lot better detail as this goes along, and be able to rely on a better numbers guy than myself. Let me know if there are any obvious goofs in my math.


Bremerton Paratrooper to Be Honored

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

What does this have to do with The Commute? Nothing, but I also cover the military and need someplace to put this. Hopefully I can mix things up if people don’t mind.

Anyway, members of the 173d Airborne Brigade at Fort Benning, Ga., are getting close to dedicating a memorial there at the “home of the Airborne.” On the memorial will be the names of 1,643 sky soldiers who died while serving with the 173d in Vietnam and 69 who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of those was Capt. Charles C. Anderson Jr. of Bremerton, who died in Vietnam on March 22, 1967, while serving wiht A Battery, 3/319th Artillery, 173d Airborne Brigade. The group is trying to find the members’ families to let them know about the memorial and add them to a mailing list. Craig Ford of Edmonds is the area contact person. His number is (425) 743-0576 and e-mail is cford1503@comcast.net. For more about the memorial, go to www.173dmemorial.org.