New director has handle on ferries

In a report to the Washington State Transportation Commission last week, new director Lynne Griffith showed that the former bus lady gets it.

You hear a lot of people talk about being up front, but few follow through. I say you’re better off being truthful up front because it’ll only get worse if you don’t. I don’t have to tell Griffith that.
“We need to just be more candid and direct and provide the information because most people can figure out that there’s a back story to what we’ve been offering,” she said.
After WSF figured out what happened to the Tacoma’s electrical system that caused it to lose power off of Bainbridge Island, they invited news folks to Eagle Harbor to explain and show the damaged parts.
“You could literally watch the media move from who’s to blame to being curious and interested in the problem we were confronted with,” Griffith said.
Standard procedure with public agencies anymore is to submit a public information request if you want to find out anything. Whatever happened to just being able to talk to people?
I have a transparency tip. Stop sending out alerts about ferries missing sailings or being late because of “operational constraints.” When riders hear that, they assume there’s a staffing problem, which isn’t always the case. It could be a medical emergency or mechanical issue. Just say what it is, like you used to. I think the policy was supposed to take the focus off staffing, but it’s backfiring.

Griffith is trying to pull together an outfit that was totally fragmented when she took over.
“We need to unify the organization,” she said. “There is divisiveness between management and labor, upper and lower decks. It all hurts in achieving our goals.”
Griffith is stripping out second-level management positions so everybody is directly accountable to her.

Forty-six percent of vessel workers are over 55 years old, including half of the deck crews, 55 percent of engine crews and 62 percent of captains.
“A tsunami of exits are going to occur over the next 10 years,” Griffith said.
The agency needs to develop a succession plan and prepare new hires to move through the system and earn their licenses so they’re available to meet demand.

Griffith told the commission she’s asked for a 23-boat fleet instead of 22, so it’s not so hard to maintain vessels.
“Maintenance is very good,” Griffith said. “They are very capable and knowledgeable. They know what to do to fix these vessels. The problem is getting at the vessels. If they’re operating 20 hours a day, there’s really only two hours a night when maintenance teams can do the work.”
She wants to retire the 34-car Hiyu.
“Unfortunately, we don’t use it because it really can’t help us on any of the routes,” she said. “It’d be much better to have a larger vessel in reasonably good repair we could pull in (to service) when we have a disruption.”
WSF’s maintenance schedule shows the Hiyu being decommissioned in early May, though I haven’t heard anything official about that.
The 87-car Evergreen State was supposed to be retired last year, but was brought back for standby, and it’s a good thing. It’s slow and small, but a lot better than the Hiyu, or nothing.
When the next two 144-car ferries enter service, the E-State and sister Klahowya can retire. And if WSF gets the fourth 144-car boat it’s asking for, the Tillikum can join them.
Vigor will deliver the second boat, Samish, to WSF on March 27. It’ll be christened by the state’s First Lady on May 20 after sea trials and join the fleet in time for Memorial Day Weekend, the director said.
The third ferry, Chimacum, will come to the Bremerton route in March 2017. Legislators seem inclined to fund a fourth. We should know in a month.

Many boat interiors are tired-looking, and that’s not going to change for awhile, Griffith said. The agency’s limited funds must go toward keeping the ferries running and safe. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be clean and comfortable.
Better galley choices wouldn’t cost anything. Vendors provide the food and drink and recoup costs through their customers.
“I would love to see us look long and hard at what the menus are, what are the available food selections,” she said.

Since Jan. 1, ferry workers have participated in nine lifesaving events, from heart attacks to people overboard. Griffith said last week. On Saturday, the Kaleetan crew plucked another man from the water in Bremerton.
“It’s just natural for them to do it, just part of their job,” Griffith said. “They don’t think of it as particularly miraculous.”