The Commute

An informative and entertaining discussion on our ferries and highways with Kitsap Sun reporters.
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Archive for March, 2011

Washington State Ferries gives green light to new tool

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Most locals have a general idea when they can’t drive down to the ferry and get right on. Like practically anytime Sunday from Kingston. Or 4:20 p.m. weekdays from Seattle to Bremerton. Or before 7 a.m. weekdays from Southworth to West Seattle.
But if you’re thinking of traveling during a less predictable time, or just dropped in from Tulsa and never seen a boat before, Washington State Ferries has a tool for you. On Tuesday it introduced color-coded schedules that show the least and most crowded sailings based on last year’s data. Green means boats generally aren’t full. Yellows could overload by departure time. And red shows that you’re probably not going to fit on that sailing and possibly the next one.
Why didn’t somebody think of that before? It works a lot better on the WSF website than on the black-and-white pages I printed out. You can find them at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries. You’ll see “Schedules” in the right column. Pick a particular route. Select “Typical Vehicle Traffic Conditions” on the right side to bring up the color-coded version.
They’re kind of neat to play around with. If you check out the Bainbridge schedule, for example, you’ll see that you better get there at 4:45 a.m. for the morning commute or expect to wait. It doesn’t clear out until after noon. Fortunately, there’s not much time between sailings. I’ve heard that riders arrive for the departure before the one they want to catch.
Kingston is the most backed-up route on Sundays, but it’s not alone, according to these schedules. Of Kingston’s 22 Sunday sailings, 17 are red. Take one of the first three boats in the morning, the last one at night or wait.
Suppose you had a choice of which route to take on Sunday night. Is there a better option than Kingston? Only relatively. Leaving Bainbridge, 12 of 22 boats are red. Nine of 11 from Bremerton. And even 17 of 22 from Southworth. I always figured it got lighter as you worked your way south, but this doesn’t bear that out.
There are some oddball results. Why is the busiest weekday sailing out of Kingston at 8:40 a.m., after the commute, for example? Why would the 4:45 p.m. boat out of Bainbridge be full on just one weekday — Thursday? It looks like a lot of people are working four-day weeks because Friday morning commutes are lighter than the other days.
Now if you have to be somewhere at a particular time, like work, this tool isn’t going to help you much. But if you’re flexible, it could save you some waiting in line.


Things that go ‘choo choo’ getting money; the fog-horned ferries? Not so much

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

There seems to be plenty of money out there for trains, but not so much for ferries.

The governor announced last week that Washington state will get $590 million in federal stimulus money to improve the Amtrak Cascades corridor between Seattle and Portland. Two round trips will be added between the cities, for a total of six by 2017. They’ll be doing a lot of projects to make the route faster and safer, directly or indirectly putting 6,000 people to work.

That should keep ridership growing. It jumped 10 percent from 2009 to 2010, and has increased from 100,000 to 840,000 since service began in 1994. The state has invested $331 million in passenger rail service during that time.

Washington got an extra $161.5 million in stimulus funds after Wisconsin and Ohio declined the money. Florida has indicated it will reject $2.4 billion in high-speed-rail stimulus funding, and Washington would like to get its hands on some of that, too. Don’t ask me why those other states are turning down money. Must come with strings attached. I’ll check into it later. But it’s sure nice for Washington. It isn’t there yet, but the train is getting to be a good alternative to driving I-5.

I don’t get why there’s so much money available for the trains, though, and not for ferries. It’s looking like ferry riders will have their fares raised 7.5 percent this year, possibly have to pay an extra quarter on every ticket to help build a new boat, and get hit with a fuel surcharge if diesel prices go nuts as it looks like they might. On top of all that, they’re threatened with reducing service and the size of boats.

The governor is already proposing to shift $44 million from highway funds to the ferries, for the last time, which is nice of her, but for another $44 million you could probably avoid all of the stuff above.