Extending the winter schedule from 12 weeks to five months is one of the service cuts under consideration for Washington State Ferries in the Washington State Department of Transportation in its 2013-2015 proposed budget.
San Juan County Council member Howie Rosenfeld who serves on the San Juan Ferry Advisory Committee explained the repercussions during an interview Friday.
During the fall schedule the international sailing to Sidney, B.C. is down to one round-trip per day and the rest of the time the ferry is used for mainland service, he said. In the winter the Sidney run goes away and so does the boat. "This would be happening during the holidays," he noted.
State Senator Kevin Ranker is one of 19 legislators who signed a letter to Governor Gregoire urging her to reject the service cuts. In a phone interview Ranker said the legislators representing the ferry-served communities were working together as one unit to fight the service cuts.
Both Rosenfeld and Ranker stated the need for the legislature to pass a funding source for ferries and for ferry riders to stop being threatened with service cuts every year.
Former San Juan Ferry Advisory Chair and state Transportation Commissioner Robert Distler disputes Rosenfeld's assessment of the situation. "In winter schedule period, the closure of the Sidney route does not result in the loss of a boat on our route. In fact many of us find the winter schedule more convenient, particularly during the mid-day period when all four of the boats are in Islands service."
Dear Governor Gregoire,
We are writing this letter to urge you to reject the elimination of ferry runs proposed by the Washington State Department of Transportation in its 2013-2015 budget decision package.
The service reductions put forth represent a significant loss to those communities that depend upon our marine highway system as a linkage with the rest of the state – economically and culturally.
After a decade of significant but strategic cuts, the existing system is already running at a bare-bones level of service, with no plans afoot for future expansion. The remaining runs have been deemed year after year to be of significant economic value to our region and our national security and, for that reason, have been preserved by the legislature. On a predictable, almost annual basis, we find ourselves facing DOT budget proposals that undermine the economic stability of our counties by inferring that today’s ferry system is not worthy of preservation and that its fate is uncertain. On a predictable, almost annual basis, the legislators that form the ferry caucus spend precious session time to fight back these proposals.
Today we say to you: Enough is enough.
Since 2000, we have cut and cut and cut the ferry system. The state is officially out of the passenger-only-ferry business and every route has sustained reductions in service. Over the past four years we have worked with Washington State Ferries to generate savings of over $40 million – the result of reducing staff, new labor agreements, shrinking paid consultants and studies, and improved efficiency in maintenance and operations.
At the same time, for the past decade ferry riders have done their part to sustain the ferry system by paying higher general fares to help cover both operating and capital costs, resulting in a recovery rate far higher than any transit system in the state and one which has made the system unaffordable for many riders. In exchange for these fare increases, riders are presented with reduced service and constant threats of further loss.
As we do every year, we stand ready to work with you to turn around this situation.
During the 2012 session, the Legislature adopted two revenue bills to address some of the transportation revenue shortfalls - much of this revenue was intended to help sustain the ferry system without limiting the service upon which our communities rely.
Just last April, Senator Haugen and Representative Clibborn sent a letter stating the Legislature’s intent to appropriate funds sufficient to maintain ferry routes and schedules at existing levels, in an effort to avoid costly public hearings and the economic undermining caused by press releases proposing cuts. This letter is attached.
Again, we urge you to reject the proposed service cuts and to put forth a transportation budget that reflects the shared priorities of our state - a budget that considers our remaining state ferry system to be public transportation infrastructure worthy of being maintained.
We thank you for hearing our concerns and look forward to your support.