On the front lines (and behind them) on ferry line-cutting enforcement

The in basket: Walt Elliott of Kingston and a longtime member of its ferry advisory commitee, writes to say, “While waiting in the ferry holding lane, a vehicle drives up the shoulder and pulls into the gap in the cross-hatched area. We informed WSP when we passed them and they said they’d inform the toll booth.

“Nothing happened. Two problems; law enforcement isn’t the toll taker’s job and successful  line cutters discourage others from leaving the cross-hatched areas open.”

The out basket: By coincidence, I had just asked state ferry spokesperson Susan Harris-Heuther for a followup on a announcement of two years ago that the “Hero” program, which provides a system for ferry patrons to report line-cutting, was about to go into effect. I asked if it had, and how it has worked if it did.

She said it had begun, and sent me reports for the number of complaints per ferry terminal per month in 2011 and 2012..

But as for the incident Walt reported, she said, “Washington State Ferries ticket sellers are not law enforcement. If we see someone cut in line we can do something about it.  But our ticket sellers cannot play judge and jury in a ‘he said, she said’ situation, punishing someone on another person’s say-so.

“Many of our visitors are confused and they have no idea when they travel along a roadway that the queue is cars for the ferry as their GPS has them going directly to the terminal. We are trying to work with all groups. If someone is reported in two separate line-cutting incidents, a letter or a contact is made by the State Patrol.”

Those two yearly reports show that Mukilteo is the terminal generating by far  the most complaints, over 500 each of the two years.

There were none at all or only one in two years at Bremerton, Coupeville, Southworth, Point Defiance, Friday Harbor, and Lopez, Orcas and Shaw islands in the San Juans, possibly due to configuration of the waiting vehicles in some cases or lesser need for waiting in line.

There were between two and four complaints at Anacortes, Port Townsend and Tahlequah, 16 at Vashon Island and 26 at Colman Dock in Seattle.

Which brings us to places with far more complaints, 177 in two years on Bainbridge Island, 256 at Fauntleroy, 278 at Clinton, 295 at Edmonds, and 1,099 at Mukilteo.

And Kingston, where Walt’s complaint originated? A modest 128 over the two years.

I also asked Trooper Russ Winger of the State Patrol here, whose officers patrol the Kitsap terminals, about enforcing the law, passed in 2007. It makes line cutting a traffic infraction and also authorizes that a violator can be sent to the back of the line.

Russ said the second of those is the most common trooper response.

“We try to identify the vehicle and talk to the driver. We tell them about the witness or witnesses report.

“Most will admit to cutting in. Sometimes it is confusion, sometimes not. Our troopers will usually have the vehicle exit and go to the end of the line if we have good reason to believe it took place – intentional or not.

“We can also radio in to the toll booth if the car has passed. The WSF staff can make their own decision on sending the car back.”

“If a vehicle did this several times you could make a case for failure to obey an officers directive but that would be a last resort. Most drivers get the picture and follow the rules once educated (about the) procedure.”

He also said a ticket issued a driver without the trooper having witnessed the line cutting probably wouldn’t hold up in court if the driver demands that a witness appear.


4 thoughts on “On the front lines (and behind them) on ferry line-cutting enforcement

  1. As a reminder, motorcyclists are allowed to move in front of the line, ahead of the other vehicles, at most ferry crossings.

    Just an FYI….

  2. Sassy is only partially correct. Motorcycles are not allowed to cut in line before the toll booth. Once inside the car holding area, they can typically go to the head of the line.

  3. Chuck is not correct. Motorcycles are intended to go the head of the line. As a motorcyclist, I have been directed there by law enforcement personnel present at the scene. There is a reason for this, in that motorcycles are far more space-efficient on the boats, so their drivers are given priority. The WSF DOES however make exception to this rule on days when many motorcycles are anticipated, like the annual Oyster-Fest. On those days motorcycles are required to wait in line, and a notice to that effect is posted some days in advance at the terminals.

  4. I asked WSF whether there is a general rule about motorcycles and Susan Harris-Heuther of the public affairs staff replied, “It depends on the route, whether they are preticketed etc. Each terminal has info on our terminal page: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/vesselwatch/Terminals.aspx?CFID=36651833&CFTOKEN=15884546 Just scroll down on each terminal to motorcycles. But generally, if you are not pre-ticketed, you do not get in first. At Colman Dock they do not bypass the ticket booth even if preticketed, at Fauntleroy they do.


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