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Emails focus on creating regional ferry campaign

December 27th, 2012 by Rachel Pritchett

Readers,

Here are comments about Washington State Ferries being tossing around via email today and into the weekend by local economic-development people. Former Port of Bremerton CEO starts the conversation, followed by Former Port of Bremerton Commissioner Bill Mahan suggesting Bozeman head the ferry system. This is a good time to add your two cents. — Rachel Pritchett, reporter:

This is a Op-Ed piece that was in todays Seattle Times on the problems facing the ferry system. Those who believe that the Washington State Ferry system is important to this state should be concerned about the future of the service that will be made available. The New Normal I assure you will be made up of fewer trips and higher fares, unless we find leadership needed to solve the problem.
— Cary Bozeman

Cary,
You are spot on with your opinion regarding the Washington State Ferry System! It is time for new leadership and as I have told you, I think you could provide that leadership at the helm of the WSF.  We need to speak with Governor Elect Inslee and convince him that the state needs a proactive, creative and dedicated director of the WSF and you are the person for the job!
 — Bill Mahan

No thanks Bill.  The leadership has to come in Olympia, from our legislators and governor.
— Cary Bozeman

While I concur with Cary re need for leadership from Olympia. Like Bill, I also believe that it will take bold leadership from WSF. And, I believe it will also require bold leadership from business and community leaders around the Sound. If you think about the 520 and 99 projects — some of the loudest voices seemed to emanate from the business community — both private sector enterprises (like Microsoft, Boeing, Costco) as well as NGOs (like PSRC- EDD / EDCs, WA Round Table, and Chambers). This needs to be a Central Puget Sound transportation priority with strong support from both I-5 Corridor and West Sound leaders. Sixty percent plus of the state’s workforce resides and works in the Central Puget Sound Economic Development District (Snohomish, King, Pierce and Kitsap counties ) accounting for nearly 75 percent of the state’s non-farm economic output. The WSF is an essential component of the Central Puget Sound’s transportation infrastructure — critical to the success of businesses located East, West, North or South in the Sound. Many of the senior business leaders in the Seattle area rely upon West Sound talent to succeed; and, many have other close ties to Kitsap and other West Sound communities (property, homes,  customers, suppliers, etc.) We need to team with these folks to build a broad coalition of support for “OUR” WSF System. Cary – perhaps designing a true “regional” campaign to sustain the WSF system could become the Olympic Group’s focus.
 — John Powers, CEO, Kitsap Economic Development Alliance

Cary;
Most European and Asia-Pacific countries have ferries that are operated by commercial firms. It is time for us to seek a professional company to manage our state’s ferry system. Maersk or Norfolk Line (both subsidiaries of A. P. Moller-Maersk Group). Several large firms in Europe have excellent models for ferry fleet sizing, individual vessel mix, and employee management. They deal with more regulations than we have in the US. Sorry, but our government does not need to be in this ferry business, the liquor business, or any other business. Perhaps a another read of our State constitution. http://www.leg.wa.gov/LAWSANDAGENCYRULES/Pages/constitution.aspx
— Guy Stitt, president, AIM International

I think Guy is on the right track. We need a large reputable company, unlike Black Ball, to take charge of the ferry system.
— Paul Pazooki, The Pazooki Group

Without getting into the debate about merits of public or private systems of transportation, you should find of some interest that your debate occurs on the centennial of auto ferry service in Western Washington. Leschi, first auto ferry in Western Washington, begins operating on Lake Washington on December 27, 1913.
http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=2040 — P. Stephen DiJulio, attorney, Foster Pepper PLLC

For what it’s worth – two failed passenger only ferry attempts in Kingston in the last 7 years. One private, one public. The circumstances under a for-profit can own and run a system are few and far between. I believe the Bainbridge boat is the only one which returns its operating cost through the fare box. The best hybrid model (which is replicated in many, many areas) is for the state to own the boats and put the operations out for bid to the private sector. The state provides the financial certainty that is needed. The competitive bid process reduces waste and profiteering.
Jon Rose, President,
Olympic Property Group
a Pope Resources Company

Let’s keep this simple.
There are two problems. 1. Not enough money to maintain present service, and 2. No courage to face the union and the public with drastic cost cutting moves.
To the credit of the private sector, the bloat and redundancy in our present system would not be allowed.
All problems require courage. It is a commodity in short supply in many of our elected officials. (not all)
The other thing we need to be honest about is that we are hoping the rest of the state will subsidize our rural, “other culture” lifestyle. This is going to be a tough nut to crack.
I do think that the time has come, they can not go much further on this present tank of gas. (see “plan” below). Cary is right, without infusion of money and cost cutting, we will see fewer boats, fewer runs, a new normal.
Let’s be informed voices. I find this information interesting and helpful, hope you will too. Check out the Bainbridge numbers vs. Bremerton.

http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/traffic_stats/

and the present plan: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Ferries/Planning/ESHB2358.htm
Jim Boldt

I have followed this on-line discussion with great interest. As someone who considers herself a “super-commuter” (daily plus many weekends, particularly during Seahawks season), I face the ferry system daily and see the low standard of performance being practiced. Ferry management is up against a formidable foe in a system designed to defeat it, both on the state government and the union sides.
Imagine being in a bureaucracy where you report to the Governor, the Transportation Secretary, the State Legislature, the Senate and House Transportation Committees, and the Transportation Commission. Picture what it would be like to deal with ferry advisory committees and constituents from 17 communities around the Sound. Layer in the labor side of the equation, where a moribund idea of representation has resulted in 20+ bargaining units for a relatively small number of employees, any one of which could throw a bollix into ferry operations. And finally, top it off with the Coast Guard, and we all now know where they are going to come from in their decision-making. It is a structure destined for failure, no matter how effective the management team is.
It is true that there is a significant difference between Bainbridge and Bremerton numbers. Bainbridge/Seattle is one of two runs that actually is self-supporting and contributes money to the system; Edmonds/Kingston is the other. Mukilteo/Clinton is close. All other runs cost the system money. Are you suggesting that only profitable runs should be maintained? Are Bainbridge and Poulsbo residents prepared to handle the hundreds of vehicles that would pour their way as the rest of us try to get to work? Should we shut down all trains, buses, airlines and roads that are not self-supporting?
I agree change is imperative and will require a collective intestinal fortitude the likes of which does not yet exist. But before we abandon this public system in favor of a privately-run operation, I would ask that we consider the following:

1. When we talk about taxpayer dollars supporting our rural lifestyle, let’s pause and think about the hundreds of people who commute every day from Kitsap County to Seattle for work and from Seattle to our largest employer, the shipyard. Think of the hundreds of sailors who commute from Bremerton to Everett. All of those people spend money here and are the backbone of Kitsap County’s economy. I can assure you that if this form of public transportation is removed, all of these people will move to the other side where the jobs are, and any economic vitality Kitsap County currently enjoys would collapse. (We should at a later time have a discussion about the tax-free benefits private businesses realize operating on Naval Base Bremerton, the military discounts being offered by local businesses at the expense of the rest of the population, and the tax-free shopping tens of thousands of active duty and retired military enjoy to the detriment of local businesses – a conversation that needs to occur.)

2. I am certain ferry captains earn $100,000+ in salaries, but it is an exaggeration to suggest that all ferry employees expect and earn that much. At an educated guess, deckhands probably cost the ferry system $80,000, including benefits. Perhaps current and former naval engineers in this discussion could ballpark what WSF engineers earn and compare it with other like public and private sector jobs. However, the privately-operated Black Ball line in Port Angeles pays its non-union employees the same wages, farming out any work to the private sector that is outside daily operations.

3. The thorn in my side is the condition of the boats. I continue to be amazed that ferry captains tolerate dirt being left to collect on the floors and then polished over to be engrained into the ambience. This is one significant difference in the expectations of public and private operations. If ferry captains and the Coast Guard demand more staffing for emergencies, the daily maintenance standards need to be much higher. Perhaps the current and retired naval personnel could help in the conversation about that expectation and how all hands on the proverbial deck need to do all tasks to maintain a vessel. We should not be expected to pay for personnel sitting (or sleeping) in lounges during sailings. And we should not have to tolerate floor polishing at 6:30am just to make a point if we complain.

4. It would be very helpful to have these same military personnel explore the relationship of the ferry system and the Coast Guard.

5. When we choose to take on these particular unions, let’s be sure we do it thoughtfully. When the IBU decides to flex its muscle, are you prepared to shut down all west coast ports and shipping operations?

It is going to take a tremendous collective effort to change a system so desperately in need of it. Other public transportation systems manage to operate far more efficiently. A water-borne system makes perfect sense in an area like Puget Sound. I don’t know that the current hybrid state highway/transit model is the right one, but it will continue so long as we collectively feel that having our vehicles instantly accessible is a right that should be supported by public dollars.
— Joan Dingfield

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2 Responses to “Emails focus on creating regional ferry campaign”

  1. Stan in Indianola Says:

    I totally agree with Mr Powers. The thing is WSF is bloated from years of adding non-value added job functions. We must address this issue and fix it. This must be done first and foremost prior to throwing more dollars away, how can anyone explain the quote from a Seattle Times article almost one year ago?

    “Instead of more taxes, how about some housecleaning, starting with Washington State Ferries? In 1978, there were about 700 workers on the docks and on the boats and about 54 workers in WSF offices. Thirty years later, there are about 700 workers on the docks and the boats and about 800 in WSF offices.”

    “How did this happen? Better question: Why?”

  2. Coleen Smidt Says:

    As much as I have not agreed with Larry Seaquist as a legislator in the past, I would love to see him take over the leadership director position for the WSF. He has known for years what has needed to be done.

    http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2010/aug/11/seaquist-calls-for-immediate-action-on-ferry/#axzz2GBJ8HCqa

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