Monthly Archives: November 2013

Ferries bring in record dollars in fares

Washington State Ferries raked in $54.4 million in fares during the quarter that ended Sept. 30, the most ever, according to the state Department of Transportation’s quarterly report, Gray Notebook.
The windfall was the result of more riders paying more money. Ridership was up 1.2 percent over the same period in 2013. Ticket prices rose 2.5 percent in May and the peak-season surcharge was in effect the whole quarter.
It’d be interesting to know how the revenues translated in terms of farebox recovery, but WSF doesn’t’ calculate it by the quarter because some of its expenses aren’t spread evenly throughout the year. Last fiscal year, farebox recovery was 69.7 percent, up from 66.2 percent in 2012, said finance director Jean Baker.
Bainbridge gained the most riders, up 2.3 percent over the previous year. I don’t have any theories to explain that. Bremerton saw a 1.1 percent increase, Kingston slipped two-tenths of 1 percent and the Triangle route fell a half percent.
Kingston and Mukilteo-Clinton were dead even for the second-busiest route, carrying 16.7 and 16.6 percent of the system’s riders, respectively. That’s just a 9,604-person difference between routes that each carried more than 1.1 million people. Bainbridge, of course, led the way with 26.7 percent. I wonder when was the last time was that wasn’t the case.
From fuller boats come later departures, as it takes longer to load and unload them. On-time performance dipped to 92.8 percent for the quarter, missing the goal of 95 percent. On average, 33 out of 470 trips a day didn’t leave the terminal within 10 minutes of the scheduled time, according to the report.
Bainbridge had 3.8 percent more late boats than the same quarter a year ago. DOT attributes it to access changes and terminal construction. The Triangle was right behind with 3.8 percent more, because of loading challenges at Fauntleroy and the Klahowya’s speed limitations. When one of the the three ferries on the route falls behind, the others are also delayed. Bremerton was next at 3.4 percent.
Only 169 trips were totally canceled, for a reliability rate of 99.6 percent. That’s fewer than two out of every 470 daily trips. The goal is 99 percent.
Had it not been for the Triangle route, reliability would be pushing perfect. There were 90 cancelations there (out of a system total of 91) because of schedule resets. That’s when a boat gets so far behind schedule that a trip has to be canceled for it to get back on track.
Seventy-eight sailings were canceled because of tides or bad weather, 62 for crewing, 37 for emergencies and 18 for vessel breakdowns.
The 62 crewing cancelations were all on the Triangle route or at the other end of Vashon Island at Point Defiance-Tahlequah. WSF is addressing the staffing shortages by hiring and training more deckhands.

Would you pay more taxes for transportation?

Survey results released by the state Transportation Commission show that 60 percent of Washington citizens are willing to pay more for transportation. That must be a different crowd than those commenting on my story today about a transportation revenue package. They were unanimously and graphically against spending another dime.
The Voice of Washington State survey panel got responses from 5,765 people who it says demographically represent the entire state. I got maybe a dozen from commenters who are typically negative and unaware. They didn’t surprise me, but the state survey results did.
It seems people are to the point they don’t want to pay more taxes for anything, good or bad. For others, it’s a political thing. They could be billionaires but don’t believe in paying taxes. I think they’re called the 1 percent.
From that perspective, I’m suspicious about the 60 percent the survey says are willing to pay more, a 9 percent jump from the 2012 survey.
When asked what benefits would justify a tax increase, 78 said preserving infrastructure, or basically taking care of what you’ve got. I don’t know what the other 22 percent were thinking. Just let it all go to hell?
Sixty-one percent said reducing congestion would make the extra taxes worthwhile. That percentage would surely rise if everybody drove the I-5 corridor. What do you suppose President Eisenhower would say if you told him his interstate system would be the slowest way to get around?
Third on the list of reasons people would pay more transportation taxes was expanding transit, at 56 percent. That’s downright unWestern. Here, we’re all about lanes and driving, usually alone. That includes me.
Asked to rate the importance of specific transportation components, 84 percent feel maintaining and repairing existing roads, highways and bridges is important, followed by expanding public transit services (49 percent) and adding or increasing inter-city passenger rail service (46 percent). Again, the last two seem out of character for us, but maybe if I was writing in Seattle or Bellevue it’d be different.
On average, survey respondents gave Washington’s statewide transportation system a C-minus grade. Only 20 percent rated it better than average.

Inslee, Boeing trying to rally after fumble

If Gov. Jay Inslee was trying to pull a fast one by claiming Boeing was only guaranteed to keep its new 777X jet work here if the Legislature passed a transportation revenue package, he did a pretty bad job of it.
Not long after he called a special session Tuesday, the Seattle Times’ Dominic Gates linked to a letter of understanding between Boeing and the Machinists Union said nothing of the sort. All workers have to do to keep the work in the Puget Sound area is ratify an 8-year deal next week that would cut their pensions and make them pay more for health care but give them all $10,000 signing bonuses.
When confronted with the letter, Alex Pietsch, director of Inslee’s aerospace office, said it ran counter to conversations the governor had with Boeing.
“They’ve told us both pieces (contract and incentives) have to be in place,” he said. “We’ve been told this is a two-part deal.
Ever since the crack emerged, Inslee, Boeing and the union have been trying to seal it. Early Wednesday evening, Inslee spokesman David Postman said he just received a short letter from Boeing and that company officials told legislative leaders in a conference call that afternoon that the company’s decision to locate the project in Washington state is dependent on approval of the new machinists contract and on the legislative package proposed by the governor Tuesday.
“Pursuant to our discussions this week, Boeing is committed to placing 777X final assembly and wing fabrication in the Puget Sound region,” it read. “This commitment, however, will be solidified if the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) District 751 contract proposal is ratified in a vote by the membership next week and favorable economic incentives are implemented by the State of Washington.”
The letter is signed by Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division.
He said it would be “solidified” by a new contact and incentives, but nothing about deal-breakers.
At about the same time Wednesday, the union sent out a statement that Postman relayed to the media.
“District 751 Legislative Director Larry Brown is leading a 10-member delegation to Olympia tomorrow to personally lobby legislators to support the Governor’s package of 777X proposals, including the transportation plan,” it read. “Any suggestion that the union thinks Legislative action isn’t necessary is simply wrong.”
Then late Thursday morning, Postman sent out a letter he said had just been hand-delivered, from Boeing Senior Vice President for Government Operations Tim Keating.
“I want to confirm that in proposing your package of incentives for legislative consideration, you have correctly interpreted our previous conversations about the elements needed for us to be competitive long into the future in Washington State, and the need for timely action to show partnership with our workforce,” it states.
“We are appreciative that you have convened a special session of the Legislature to achieve the results that are necessary for the Boeing Company to locate a 777X program in Washington State.
“Your proposal for workforce investments, permitting efficiencies, tax incentives, water quality regulations and transportation infrastructure improvements, in combination with a forward looking agreement with our workforce, will ensure our lasting competitiveness in Washington State.”
Interpreting what local lawmakers have told me, it’s not likely a transpiration revenue package can get passed during this special session. The Senate’s Majority Caucus Coalition wants it to come with reforms to the way the Department of Transportation conducts business. That will take some time, and Boeing will be OK with that. They expect other incentives like job training, permit streamlining and extending tax breaks shouldn’t take much time at all and should get done before machinists go to vote on Wednesday.

Boeing incentive bill already getting public hearing

The House Finance Committee is holding a public hearing today at 1:30 on the Boeing incentive bill. Not a lot of heads-up for those who wanted to go down and testify. OK, so there probably wouldn’t have been a stampede to Olympia anyway.Here’s how the title of the bill, HB 2089, reads:
“Incentivizing a long-term commitment to maintain and grow jobs in the aerospace industry in Washington state by extending the expiration date of aerospace tax preferences and expanding the sales and use tax exemption for the construction of new facilities used to manufacture superefficient airplanes to include the construction of new facilities used to manufacture commercial airplanes or the wings or fuselage of commercial airplanes.
The bill is 28 pages long. I haven’t had time to read all of it yet. Probably nobody, even the legislators, have. You can be among the first by going here.

Amtrak adding Cascades trains for Thanksgiving week

Somehow, holiday traffic has gotten so bad on Interstate 5 between Tacoma and Centralia that it’s barely worth going. That’s one place where Amtrak is a decent option, and it will be moreso during Thanksgiving week.

Amtrak will add four trains along the Amtrak Cascades route between Portland and Seattle from Wednesday, Nov. 27, through Sunday, Dec.1.

Thanksgiving week is typically Amtrak’s busiest travel period of the year. The heaviest travel days are Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Sunday after the holiday. With the exception of Thanksgiving Day, morning trains typically have more available seats than those in the afternoon and evening.

Regular one-way adult fares between Seattle and Portland start as low as $33. All Amtrak Cascades trains require reservations. Passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets early to obtain the lowest fare. The additional trains will not have business class or checked baggage.

Visit or call 800-USA-RAIL for reservations and information.