The Vehicle Reservations System (VRS) Community Partnership committee, appointed to determine if a reservation system makes sense for the Anacortes/San Juans ferry route and to create the business rules if it does, met October 24, 2012 in Friday Harbor.
The committee includes ferry riders from the islands -San Juan, Orcas and Lopez - and from the mainland cities of Anacortes and Mount Vernon. The membership covers a range of users: islanders who commute to Seattle or elsewhere; commercial users, school bus riders; tourists; island residents with typical uses - mainland medical appointments/Costco runs; recreational activity participants; and dating someone living in Victoria.
A brief discussion of Phase I which was Port Townsend/Coupeville reservation system led off the discussion. That community developed business rules including a reservation deposit which is part of the ticket fee.
Originally the reservations did not require a fee and the no show rate was 50 to 60 percent. With the fee the no show fee is now less than 10 percent. The portion of the boat that will be reserved is 80 percent. At this time it is 50 percent. The system is being implemented incrementally.
Ridership has increased since the reservation system has been deployed.
Most of the ferry systems around the world including those servicing routes consisting solely of islands have reservation systems Deputy Chief of Operations Captain George Capacci told the group.
Regarding the feasibility of Phase II, having a reservation system for the Anacortes/San Juans route, Capacci said, "The question "If" is still on the table. We'll accept it could possibly not work, if you'll accept it could possibly work."
It was stressed that the rules for Port Townsend were developed for that route by those citizens and those rules wouldn't necessarily be the ones for the San Juans.
During the meeting, concerns raised included:
What happens if boats are canceled;
What about fog delays;
What if islanders want to take last minute trips;
What if tourist facility operators book up all the reservations months in advance;
What if there is an accident on I-5 and a driver with a reservation is delayed
A reservation system is incompatible with island culture;
There are better ways to accomplish the same thing - discourage driving, give free parking in Anacortes
Positive comments included:
Peace of mind, sleep
A reservation system is long overdue;
Nice to know you could stop to buy food, gas on your way back to the ferry.
Good not to wait for hours.
Improve the reputation regarding tourism industry.
Better management of assets.
Would save money. Waiting in line costs everybody money.
Capacci echoed one of the comments made by a committee member concerning the reputation the islands were getting regarding tourism travel. "There's the lost opportunity cost of people that don't travel. You hear, I don't go to the islands anymore because I don't want to wait 'fill in the blank' number of hours," he said.
Lopez Island representatives were, on the whole, less enthusiastic about reservations.
"I drive down five minutes before sailing time get on the boat. Drive back do the same thing. Never wait in line. I won't use the reservation system," said one committee member from Lopez referring to the several direct boats from Lopez to Anacortes.
San Juan Ferry Advisory Committee Chair Jim Corenham explained the lack of a wait at Lopez, "The system has one size boat - 148 car - in service. In the summer time we deliberately assign direct runs for Lopez three times a day (sometimes four, depending on the day) with a 148-car boat. For Lopez that is huge. You basically cannot fill them up. You filled them up twice, three times. Yes, you can go down five minutes before sailing time and drive on the boat. That is a function of the size of the boat as compared to the size of the island. The reason we give Lopez direct sailings is because it gets Lopez off the other boats. Gives Lopez more capacity in the summer than it can use."
Council member Howie Rosenfeld who is a member of the FAC and the reservation committee expressed concern that money is being spent on reservations during a time of possible service cuts. "So we are faced with a here and now situation of two more months of winter schedule in the San Juans against the possibility of reservations," he said. "Here we are again having to face these cuts. So how do we deal with this, this will affect us (the possible cuts) possibly as early as November 2013."
Council member Lovel Pratt who was observing the meeting said, "I don't know if I can support going forward with this. We cannot take a level of service cut." She suggested more communication with the public on what ferries don't get overloads, encouraging people not to take their cars and other similar methods to solve the problem instead of reservations.
Asked after the meeting, WSF staff confirmed the funding is designated for the reservations study and cannot be used to restore service. A vehicle reservations system is a primary demand management strategy in WSF's 2030 long-range plan. The state expects to save $280 million in capital improvements by not having to expand ferry terminals and holding areas to accommodate projected increases in vehicle traffic.
Capaccio acknowledged the council members concerns and said state legislators are working to find a permanent source of funding for ferries. "In the meantime we still have to go through this process," he said.
The next meeting is December 6.
More information and materials used are available on the WSF website.